North American Christians Face the Middle East Crisis
From Mart Bailey

Background Statement:  Thecurrent crisis in the Middle East is exacerbated by the grossly inadequate andfrequently biased coverage it is receiving in the U.S. media.  This coverage often explicitly blames MuslimPalestinians and frequently ignores the interests and concerns of PalestinianChristians.  North American churches andother religious organizations have a longtime commitment to the historicchurches that have ministered in the region since the day of Pentecost.
There are exceptions to the problematic mediatreatment, of course, but there is a cycle of bias that can be traced toskillful public relations efforts by the friends of Israel, to prominentpoliticians who pander to several lobbying groups, and to editors, publishersand broadcasters who lack objectivity in Middle Eastern affairs.  To counter such well-financed andprofessionally-managed propaganda efforts, a broadly developed media strategyis essential.

Need for Institutional Base:  At the present time many individual Christians areseeking, without coordination, to reach and monitor the print and electronicmedia in relation to Israel's overwhelming use of force againstPalestinians.  The result is a lack offocus, wasteful repetition of efforts, and many missed opportunities.
It is essential that Christians in North America andperhaps also in Europe organize their efforts strategically and work togetherthrough a single center capable of offering some direction. Institutions thathistorically have invested heavily in personnel, in support for Palestinianrefugees, in the develop-ment of indigenous religious organizations, etc.,urgently need to agree on a media strategy and create a team approach to pursuethis strategy.

Elements of a Strategy:  Amongthe things that need to be done are the following:

1.     A careful effort to monitor and document media coverage of the Israeli /Palestinian conflict, as well as media bias toward Arabs in general and Muslimsin particular, in major markets across the country.  When bias is evident, it needs to be named for what it is.  Individuals need to be enlisted in thisconcerted and immediate effort, but over the long haul it will be important toengage credible academic organizations in this fact-finding task and to assurethe publication of the results.

2.     Immediate response by local media patrons and by issueauthorities.  Letters to the editor,telephone calls, Email messages, as well as visits to media editors and ownersare essential.

3.     Identification of major issues on which initiatives and interventions are needed inthe form of op-ed pieces and efforts to place interviews, articles, programsand the like.  Visits by Palestinianleaders can provide opportunities for interviews and feature stories.  Some of these issues and visits will warrantwell-executed campaigns, possibly involving national religious and academicleaders.

4.     Identification of media outlets that need to be cultivated and assistedin various ways.  Carefully-defined approachesto news media and to other opinion-making or -changing publications need to beundertaken by well-prepared individuals.

5.     Contact and engagement with journalists on the ground in Israel andPalestine, and their editors at home.   It is essential to help such persons discover articulatespokespersons working in Palestinian institutions, especially Christianorganizations.

6.     Recommendations and background conversations with editors of churchperiodicals and journals that encourage thoughtful treatment of Middle Easternissues and news.   Especially when public mediacoverage is inadequate or biased, the church media need to present balanced andthorough accounts.  Along with thepublic media, they need to be encouraged to place current events in context andto provide historic background.

7.     Development of networks of persons and organizations willing tocooperate in this strategic media effort.  The continual nurture ofthese networks through Email, telephone and other contact is essential.   The persons who are part of these networksneed to know about the broad plans and the issues that have been identified asstrategically significant and important.

8.     Encouragement of Palestinian religious organizations to tell theirstories through news releases and other forms.   Appropriate distribution of these releases to such places as WorldwideFaith News, etc., is important.  Thisencouragement will involve contacts by partner organizations as well ascontinuing Email contact.  On-the-groundassistance may be needed, especially in the training of writers.

9.     Assignment to strategically located professionals of the task ofdistributing news releases, etc.

10. Review of various approachesin the light of strategic plan.  The review could lead torecognition of the need for well-placed advertisements and perhaps even theemployment of public relations counsel. Although there is a danger in the delays involved, it is essential thatthe strategic planning and subsequent execution of the plans involve a broad-baseof concerned organizations, including some of Arab and/or Palestinianparticipation.  Liaison with comparableMuslim groups will be important.

11. Institutional reporting.  Credibility,various forms of support, and continuity of effort will require regular andthorough reporting of these efforts to the various participating partnerorganizations.

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