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Columbia Journalism Review's Anti-Israel Lies Exposed

A CJR article tears apart an earlier piece that placed Israel high on list of countries that suppress journalists.
By Gil Ronen
First Publish: 4/17/2012, 3:15 PM

Protesting murder of Sergio Arrigoni
Protesting murder of Sergio Arrigoni
Israel news photo: Flash 90

The Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) website posted an article Monday that severely criticizes an article by Justin Martin, that appeared on CJR two weeks earlier, which portrays Israel as a country that stifles the press. Martin's reply to the criticism exposes at least one outright lie in his claims.

The original article by Martin, a journalism professor at the University of Maine, relied on statistics from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) to determine that Israel ranks second in the world in a ranking he titled "Jailed Journalists by Population." The ranking was obtained by dividing a country's population by the number of journalists detained in it.

Eritrea came in first and Iran came in third, followed by Syria, Myanmar, Ivory Coast and Rwanda. 

Monday's critique by Sohrab Ahmari notes that Martin drew political conclusions from the data. Although “the Islamic Republic is up there,” he wrote, “Eritrea and Israel also need to do some explaining.”

"Israel jails more journalists than either the Palestinian Authority (zero) or militant group Hamas (three), both of which it criticizes for human rights miscarriages," wrote Martin. He went on to explain that countries like Eritrea do not care if they are portrayed as brutal. "Israel, though, wants to be called a modern democracy and gets cranky when critics point out that it is not." 

According to Ahmari, "Mr. Martin’s findings soon sparked a firestorm of controversy, with supporters of Israel crying foul at the latest instance of Israel-bashing in the prestige press. The outrage intensified once Jodi Rudoren, The New York Times’s newly appointed Jerusalem bureau chief, took to her Twitter account to weigh in. 'What do Israel and Iran have in common? Jailing journalists, according to [CJR],' she wrote, without pausing to consider the soundness of such a claim. (She later apologized.)"

"The outrage was justified," determined Ahmari. Martin’s methodology was "a classic example of the sort of statistical recklessness that CJR scolds other journalists for." He cited Commentary’s Omri Ceren who pointed out that “If you want a ‘per capita’ number describing which countries disproportionately target journalists, you divide the jailed journalists in each country by the total number of journalists in each country, not by the total number of people.”

"Otherwise," explained Ahmari, "tiny Israel—home to a huge press corps and where commentators in the Arab and leftist presses regularly question the state’s very right to exist—ends up appearing more repressive than, say, North Korea, where a totalitarian regime does not permit journalism as such to exist."

"In Iran, where I was born and spent the first half of my life," Ahmari added, "journalists and writers are persecuted on a nearly industrial scale; dozens of outlets are shuttered every year… But why should Western audiences care about these very real injustices when seemingly authoritative 'statistics' show the West—including Israel and the U.S.—to be equally authoritarian?"

Justin Martin responded by saying – "I fully agree with this criticism. Unfortunately, we don’t yet have reliable data on national tallies for working reporters in many of the countries—Eritrea, Sudan, Ethiopia—that jail journalists. And even if such data were available, we would want counts of how many newsmakers in each country were working for regime-owned news sources versus private organizations. For now, although the data are a bit large and cumbersome, ratios of imprisoned reporters to countries’ population still deliver some meaning."

He denied any anti-Israel bias and even said that he "did Israel a favor," because the CPJ data actually "make Israel look worse." He explained that the CPJ report lists seven journalists as having been detained in "Israel and the Occupied Territories" and that he did some further reading and discovered that "three of them had been jailed by Hamas in Gaza" -- so he reduced the number from seven to four.

This leads to at least two questions:

  1. How could Martin claim that "zero" journalists were jailed by the Palestinian Authority if he admits that three were jailed by Hamas in Gaza?
  2. Maybe journalists are not jailed because, like Vittorio Arrigoni, they are abducted and murdered instead?

Question number one indicates that Martin simply lied when he claimed there were "zero" journalists imprisoned by the PA, because he admitted in his later posting that he knew at least three had been imprisoned in Gaza.