Gaza media coverage – official sources and numbers

Journalists like using ‘official sources’ of information. The theory (take a look at Herbert Gans among others) is that (in a democracy) government spokespeople, the police, officials, press officers etc are more useful to a journalist than other sources.

They have access to information, are able to find out data, know people that know people, in some cases are paid to ‘help’ the journalist, and in theory have more to lose (job, reputation etc) if they are discovered to be lying or just plain wrong. (Using ‘official sources’ also offers the journalist in the UK greater legal protection.)

In practice, of course this, isn’t always the case. The official sources that journalists rely on do make mistakes, can be misinformed, have an agenda, do put a spin on events, occasionally lie, and are under pressure to provide for an instant information society.

Presented below we have two official Israeli sources giving out figures for the number of rocket attacks from Gaza during the ceasefire between Gaza and Israel last year.

BBC journalist Robin Lustig asked an Israeli military spokesperson who admitted his numbers were “approximate”. These are the numbers he obtained:

19-30 June: 9
July: 20
August: 17
September: 2
October: 2
November: 190

Over at the Huffington Post, Nancy Kanwisher et al, looked at the figures provided by the Israeli Consulate in New York City:

June: 87
July: 1
August: 8
September: 1
October: 1
November: 126

So they are pretty close to agreement on September and October, but the July, August and November figures don’t really tally. (Obviously the ‘June’ figures cannot be compared as they are for different periods of time).

This looks like a case of the Israelis simply not knowing how many rockets have been fired from Gaza – I can understand counting the rockets might not be straightforward, (for some reason I haven’t quite thought of yet), but those pesky journalists want facts and it doesn’t suit the Israelis to say: ‘we don’t really know’ and not provide them with any numbers.

So official sources then – perhaps best questioned like any other source, and especially when there’s a war on.