Australian politician’s idea of ‘fair and balanced reporting’

On 14 February 2018, Andrew Hastie, member for Canning and Chairman of the Parliamentary Joint Committee for Intelligence and Security, penned an opinion piece for The Australian titled ‘Iranian slander against Israel goes unchallenged on ABC.’1 The article relates to an interview the ABC’s Fran Kelly conducted with Mohammad Marandi, a Professor of North American Studies at the University of Tehran, on the Israeli airstrikes on Syria (occurred 11 Feb 2018).2 Hastie’s main point is to criticise the ABC for only interviewing Marandi on the topic, airing ‘no counter-argument,’ and failing to have ‘fair and balanced reporting.’3 Throughout the article Hastie makes it clear he is no fan of Marandi or Iran. Likewise, he makes it clear he is a fan of Australia’s close and growing relations with Israel, perhaps indicating he is not unbiased himself.

The crux of Hastie’s article revolves around pointing out Marandi’s statements are untrue. Hastie tries to discredit Marandi and his version of events, accusing him of falsehoods, and claims he is an ‘Iranian surrogate’ and ‘known spokesman of the Iranian government.’ Hastie claims Marandi made ‘fantastical statements,’ that his ‘assertions are not rooted in reality,’ ‘he uses obfuscation and downright falsehoods,’ and that he ‘managed to pour lies into our public square.’ Considering he is accusing Marandi of slander these statements seem like the pot calling the kettle black.

Despite Hastie’s claims, the following analysis of Marandi’s statements shows they are mostly accurate.

Iran didn’t fly a drone over Israeli airspace.

Israel claimed the drone violated its airspace; Iran and Syria deny that, and state it was on a regular mission gathering intelligence on Islamic State. Marandi’s statement is consistent with this. Without clear data it is a case of Israel’s claims against Iran’s denials, and if untrue, Marandi cannot be blamed for towing his country’s official line. Adding to the ambiguity is that Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights is not internationally recognised (it is occupied Syrian land), so Iran may not be denying the drone flew over the Golan but that the Golan is not Israeli airspace. Even if the drone did violate Israeli airspace, it is audacious for the Israelis to complain and react when they continually violate the airspace of neighbouring countries.4

The event was orchestrated as a smokescreen by Netanyahu to mask domestic political problems.

Netanyahu is currently facing allegations of corruption. He wouldn’t be the first politician to cause a distraction to shift attention away from domestic troubles, and using external threats is a very effective way of doing this.5 This claim is difficult to prove, however.

Israeli is allies with IS and AQ

Islamic State and al Qaeda share the same enemy as Israel, namely the Syrian government, so at the very least this is an alliance of convenience. There is some evidence Israel is working with IS/AQ,6 and documented evidence showing it has been treating wounded Syrian rebels.7 It is possible at least some of those rebels have fought for or alongside IS/AQ.8 Furthermore, one of the targets Israeli jets targeted was a drone base in central Syria which was used to gather intelligence on IS in the area; obviously its destruction would assist IS. Israel has also attacked Syrian forces during times when Syria is battling IS.9 This assistance indicates Israel is at least a de facto ally of IS.

Israel kept the local population in Gaza on the verge of starvation.

This stems from claims the Israeli military limited the amount of food available to Gaza on a per capita basis. Critics of Israel point to an Israeli military document from 2008 which calculated the daily calorie needs of Palestinians.10 Israel claims this was to prevent malnutrition, while its accusers believe it was to limit food into Gaza to place pressure on its inhabitants. Marandi’s statement fits this latter belief.

Israel killed thousands of civilians but they never captured [Gaza].

This is undeniably true. During Operation Cast Lead alone (8 July 2014 to 27 August 2014) Israel killed 2,100 Palestinians.11 However, it is likely Israel doesn’t want to capture Gaza, but instead would prefer to continue blockading the city in an attempt to control it while keep Israeli troops largely out of harm’s way.

Israel launched a war on Lebanon and Hezbollah defeated them.

This is true. In 2006 Israel attacked Hezbollah in Lebanon and failed to meet its objectives despite an overwhelming advantage in military force.12

Israel’s strong point is its air force and now it’s been shown to be vulnerable.

This is an opinion but supported by statements from both sides. For example, a Haaretz article claims Israelis’ ‘attitude toward the burning fragments of their fighter plane was as if a tribal totem had been blown up and torched, true desecration; as if their national pride had been castrated.’13 Likewise, a Hezbollah spokesman stated that the downing of the Israeli jet marks the ‘start of a new strategic phase’ and that the ‘developments mean the old equations have categorically ended.’14 Roger Shanahan from the Lowy Institute agrees, stating ‘A large measure of Israel’s defensive capability has rested on the reputation and ability of its air force to strike targets without suffering losses. Although the loss of one aircraft has not punctured that air of invincibility, it has certainly dented it.’15

The second main point Hastie makes in his article is his accusation that in airing Marandi the ABC has failed to live up to its standards of impartiality and fair and balanced reporting: ‘the ABC aired no counter-argument. Marandi’s out­­rageous claims were not tested by the host or anyone else. Where was the fairness and balance?’ If Hastie was a regular listener to RN, he might know the ABC often only interviews one speaker for international events, unlike for domestic issues where speakers from both side of politics are often given airtime. Over a longer time period this seems to give voice to a diverse range of opinions from all sides. Regardless, a few days later on 19 February, the ABC aired another interview on the same topic with a guest definitely not an ‘Iranian surrogate’16 – perhaps Hastie jumped the gun in writing his article?

Hastie’s final point is a question for the ABC: ‘Why did it give a platform to a known spokesman of the Iranian government — a repressive regime committed to the destruction of our closest ally in the Middle East?’ Australia has bilateral relations with Iran, including annual trade totalling almost $400 million.17 Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop visited Iran in 2015 and met with President Rouhani, Foreign Minister Zarif and other Iranian leaders. Foreign Minister Zarif reciprocated with a visit to Australia in 2016. Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister Ciobo visited Iran later that year. If these high-ranking officials are meeting with one another, why should journalists be barred from interviewing Iranians?

For an article focused on the alleged falsehoods of Marandi, Hastie himself obfuscates some details. For example, regarding the interview he states ‘the debate centred on a series of clashes between Israel and Iranian forces in Syria.’ The Israelis claim they shot down an Iranian drone violating Israel’s airspace, and in response they launched missiles and airstrikes upon several Iranian and Syrian military sites within Syria. During the attack the Syrian armed forces managed to shoot down an Israeli jet18 (though in Hastie’s words, the jet ‘crashed’). The use of the phrases ‘a series of clashes between’ is supposed to portray Israel and Iranian equivalency, when in reality it was Israeli force inflicted upon Syria. If Iran was involved in these ‘clashes’ it was as a target of airstrikes; it was the Syrian defence forces which fired back. This misleading language is the same used to describe Israeli attacks on Palestinians, meant to equalise the overbearing military force of Israeli aggression with the occupied Palestinians civilians. In reality those ‘clashes,’ much like the Israeli airstrikes on Syria, are largely one-sided affairs.19

Hastie’s article suggests he believes the ABC should only speak to people he approves of. The ABC was in fact interviewing Marandi to ‘inform’ the Australian public of a non-Israeli side to a story, perhaps attempting to provide a non-Western view to Middle Eastern events.

As for Marandi’s ‘falsehoods,’ as shown many of his statements are correct. His narrative is consistent with him defending his country. Hastie disliking what Marandi has to say does not make Marandi a liar.

Perhaps a more relevant question than those posed by Hastie would be: why did the member for Canning feel the need to write an article on behalf of Israel?

Show 19 footnotes

  3. Note this follows recent Australian Liberal Party attacks on the ABC
  4. For example, from July 1 to October 30, UNIFIL recorded Israel violated Lebanon’s airspace 758 times; drones were involved in 707 of these violations.
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  19. For examples of the use of this equivalency language see and

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