NRK defends Mid-East coverage

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Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) is defending its coverage of the Middle East, after Israel’s embassy in Oslo sent a formal complaint to NRK and asked the local state broadcasting council to demand more balance. The embassy, reported newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN), claims NRK’s coverage is anti-Israel.

NRK foreign editor Knut Erik Holm responded that Israeli officials must tolerate critical questions and coverage. “They believe we have a systematic, misleading and malicious anti-Israel agenda,” Holm told DN. “In our answer, we have shown that Israel like all other countries must accept critical probes of their politics. We have also noted that Israel is a democracy where criticism of the country’s politics from its own citizens is also highly vocal.”

NRK’s Middle East correspondent Sidsel Wold, currently covering the war in Libya, has won awards for her work and emphatically denied she has an anti-Israel agenda. She told DN on the phone from Benghazi that “Israel’s problem is its own politics. They won’t end their occupation, and don’t want serious peace talks. Therefore they get a lot of negative coverage.”

DN reported last week that the embassy criticized NRK and Wold for, among other things, interviewing a Palestinian family instead of an Israeli family on Israel’s national day and for admitting after the Gaza invasion that she “needed a break from Israel.” The embassy also criticized Wold for failing to report official Israeli statements, especially from the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). Wold responded that “time and time again, we’ve experienced that IDF deals in untruths,” and she hesitates to “be left standing as a microphone holder.” She said she “loved Israel” when she lived on a kibbutz from 1978 to 1981 and has considered converting to Judaism. She claimed that “everything I send home (to Norway) could have been published in Haaretz,” an Israeli newspaper.

Wold attributed the embassy’s criticism of her work to a new public relations campaign in Israel that calls for all Israelis who go overseas to champion Israel’s cause, as should its embassies. “They are very active in trying to explain Israel’s politics, but that’s not so easy to explain anymore, so then they think that going on the attack is the best defense,” Wold told DN. “There’s a lot of ‘spin’ here, and efforts to divert attention from their politics.”

Israel’s embassy in Oslo attracted some support from politicians in the Norwegian Parliament who traditionally have been enthusiastic backers of Israel, even during the height of Israel’s controversial invasion of Gaza and blockade of aid to Palestinians in Gaza. Hans Olav Syversen of the Christian Democrats party (Kristelig Folkeparti), who leads a “Friends of Israel” group in parliament, wouldn’t comment on the embassy’s complaint but said he often has questioned NRK’s reporting or its angles on stories himself.

“NRK hardly ever reports on science or culture in Israel,” Syversen told DN. “Therefore NRK often draws a one-sided picture of Israel.”

Former NRK foreign editor Jahn Otto Johansen said he thinks NRK is more critical of Israel than, for example, the BBC or German television. Johansen also criticizes NRK for using the term “‘suicide bomber’ for Arabs who blow themselves up in Israel and take innocent lives as well, when those doing the same for the ETA or IRA are called ‘terrorists.'”

Johansen does not agree with the embassy’s criticism of Wold, however. “She has never been anti-Israel,” he said. “She’s learned Hebrew and knows Israel inside out.”

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