Israel: Confronting fake news, one camera at a time
While today's widespread use of the term "fake news" can be traced to Donald Trump's first press conference as president-elect, Israel has long had to grapple with the phenomenon of media outlets bending the truth for political gain.
Indeed, the mainstream media blaming Israel for all the problems in the Middle East has only been exacerbated in recent years, with the explosion of social networks and other alternative online outlets. However, instead of just crying foul, organizations such as Israel's Tazpit Press Service (TPS) are providing real-time, accurate, and reliable news information for international media outlets seeking news coverage on Israel and the Middle East.
"Foreign agencies come to Israel with their own perspectives. No one is completely objective," says Amotz Eyal, CEO and founder of TPS, Israel's only press agency. TPS has "Christians, Arabs, Druze and Jewish experts who provide accurate stories about Israel[.] ... Our goal is to expose stories that other services do not cover: not just terrorist attacks, but stories about the different communities in Israel," Eyal states. Since being established in 2012, the agency has broken stories on a wide range of topics related to economics, security, politics, technology, scientific developments, agriculture, and more.
As one of the featured guests at Breaking Israel News's inaugural Prophecy in the News Conference, Eyal shared his thoughts on the journalistic double-standard that permeates the mainstream media's coverage of Israel. With regard to Reuters, the Associated Press and other leading wire services, the TPS CEO isn't worried in the least about taking on the industry's Goliaths. "We're not trying to compete by size, but rather by quality. We have 250 photographers all over Israel. We have more people on the ground here than any other service. As a result, we get to the stories more quickly than any other news agency."
Eyal's specific topic at the Prophecy in the News Conference, "How We Change the Narrative about Israel," was one of the highlights of a gathering that explored the unique challenges and opportunities of reporting the news from a biblical perspective. Ironically, while such a journalistic approach is not considered mainstream, Rabbi Tuly Weisz, publisher of Breaking Israel News, notes that "half of the world recognizes that the Bible is both important historically and as a way to help us interpret today's events."
Similar to the Christian Broadcasting Network and the Trinity Broadcasting Network, Breaking Israel News is not afraid to connect current events to the Bible. And while mainstream media pundits tend to portray Evangelical Christians as irredeemably boorish, ignorant, racist, and homophobic, the latter, not the former, actually represent today's mainstream.
As Rabbi Weisz states: "While the whole world was laughing at Donald Trump, we noted that our supporters took him seriously. The voice of the pro-Israel community is now in the establishment."
Both Eyal and Weisz are dedicated to supplying comprehensive media information to world media forums. The TPS approach is based on resilience, organizational flexibility, and innovation, necessary for telling the "small stories coming out of Israel that can have global ramifications." Meanwhile, Weisz and Breaking Israel News are working to have Christian news sites pick up news from Israel, with the goal of "pulling the camera further back, about 2,000 years back."
In recent months, there has been much discussion about fake news, particularly how it is spread and shared online and whether it influenced the recent presidential election. However, in today's 24/7 reality, it's not enough to simply combat inaccuracies in the media after they have been written, posted, and distributed.
Organizations such as TPS and Breaking Israel News are in the vanguard of a movement to ensure that the truth about Israel, rarely pure and never simple, nonetheless gets told. And in a world of competing narratives, sometimes it helps to look to the numbers to understand how the once monolithic mainstream media is starting to fissure as a result of this push-back. TPS distributes media material to over 180 leading media outlets around the world, and Breaking Israel News is Israel's fifth largest English website, with more than 1.5 million monthly readers.
Long before the advent of the Digital Age, Mark Twain said: "A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes." Today, unverified, false and prejudiced stories about Israel are increasingly being moderated, mediated, and ameliorated.
While today's media elites are entitled to their own opinions, they are not entitled to their own facts.
Gidon Ben-Zvi is a Jerusalem-based freelance writer, editor, translator, and contributor.