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Media : Blood News : Graphic coverage of Palestinian attacks on Israelis has sparked fear--and controversy.


JERUSALEM — Eli Gliko, a 26-year-old Israeli Foreign Ministry employee out for an evening jog along a promenade overlooking Jerusalem, was stabbed in the back last month by a Palestinian armed with a butcher knife.

Within minutes, Gliko was in the emergency room of a Jerusalem hospital, rushed there by a passing taxi driver.

And shortly after that he was on Mabat, the main evening newscast and the most watched program on Israeli television.

Relentlessly, the camera followed Gliko as he was positioned on an emergency room table, as nurses cut away his blood-soaked shirt, as medical technicians fixed intravenous drips, as physicians prepared to remove the knife, still lodged deeply in Gliko's back.

For television news, the unfolding drama was a high moment that made eyewitnesses out of hundreds of thousands of Israeli television viewers.

But the drama, along with similarly graphic coverage by the country's tabloid newspapers of Gliko's stabbing and other recent attacks on Israelis, also sparked fears, outrage--and controversy.

Critics accuse the press of provoking panic for commercial gain; others contend that some newspapers played the attacks in the most frightening way in a bid to undermine the Mideast peace talks.

Countered former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir: "This is what is happening in our country. The media have not invented this, and the journalists have not murdered these people . . .

"We have suffered waves of terrorism before. The security forces do bring them to an end, and we know they do subside. Meanwhile, however, people are very frightened. It is both a question of personal safety and of national security. We feel each death, each wounding as if in our own family."

The day after Gliko's stabbing, an Israeli settler was murdered in the occupied Gaza Strip and, two days after that, two policemen were shot dead as they slept in their patrol car near the Israeli town of Hadera.

In all, 15 Israelis were killed in Palestinian attacks in "bloody March," as the month was dubbed by the press, and more than a score were wounded, including Gliko, but survived. Almost every morning newspaper had front-page pictures of covered bodies, thick pools of blood, grieving families and funerals, and each evening Mabat carried more.

For Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the assault on Gliko and, just as important, the news coverage it received were another blow to efforts to find a formula for Palestinian self-government and an understanding with Israel's Arab neighbors.

"The real victim in that attack was the peace process," a Rabin aide complained later. "With each attack, we lose support for negotiations. Our people see these attacks and ask, quite justly, 'How can we make peace with the Palestinians? How can we even talk with them while they are stabbing us on the streets of our own cities?'

"The upsurge in terrorism in the past three months has made negotiations difficult, but the coverage the attacks have received has made it close to impossible. Every attack resonates in our media for days, and altogether it induces a sense of panic."

Rabin accused the media of excessively dramatizing the attacks and thus weakening public morale. "These headlines regarding the stabbing of a few youths are three times larger than those the press carried on the eruption of the Six-Day War," Rabin, who was chief of staff in the 1967 conflict, complained in a television interview. "The media should also have a role in calming passions."

"The media behaved like producers of cheap pornographic films," journalist Amnon Dankner wrote in the newspaper Hadashot. "The pictures that appeared on front pages dripped with blood, the headlines were panicky and sowed fear and hysteria among the readers, the writing was of the worst kind of jingoism and pretended to offer immediate solutions, much like certain politicians."

Israeli editors defend their coverage as reflecting the mood of the people and serving the national interests by keeping people informed so they can decide themselves the risks involved in seeking peace--and going to work or school the next day.

"We must report what is happening," said Elimelech Ram, who as Mabat's chief editor ordered the prime-time coverage of the Gliko knifing. "The entire world sees every act done to the Arabs, whether the destruction of their houses . . . or the beating of an Arab rioter. This they see all over the world. Why shouldn't they see what (the Arabs) do to us?"

Televising the Gliko footage undoubtedly had "a very bad effect" on the country's morale, Ram said. "But I am not appointed to oversee the condition of the national mood," he added. "I am suppose to report what happens. Our role is objective reporting."

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