A number of the most powerful people in the Australian media have been on free tours of the Middle East — and disclosure obligations vary from outlet to outlet…
For decades Israeli advocacy groups have sent journalists as well as elected and aspiring politicians to the Middle East on what the Jewish Board of Deputies calls the “Journalists’ Mission to Israel”.
“For about 25 years, the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (JBD) has been inviting senior media personnel to take part in the annual journalists’ study tour of Israel,” the board’s website reads.
“The aim of the study mission is to demonstrate the complexity of the situation in the Middle East and provide journalists with background briefings to improve their knowledge of the issues.”
While the trips themselves remain a rather opaque element of the media landscape (indeed, the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies did not respond for comment), a number of the most powerful people in the Australian media have been on tours of Israel, organised and often funded (at least in part) by the JBD or the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC).
The Israeli delegation to Australia also often organises trips that involve politicians, as well as the Australian Union of Jewish Students, which traditionally sends a group of some of the nation’s brightest student politicians every year.
A number of senior journalists have been on trips organised by the JBD and AIJAC in the past. In 2015, a particularly notable trip involved Sky News’ Sharri Markson, now-Daily Telegraph editor Ben English, now-Sydney Morning Herald editor Bevan Shields, and then-Seven senior reporter Alex Hart.
Then-Sky News’ David Lipson (now at the ABC, which does not send journalists on trips of this kind) and the AFR’s Aaron Patrick were also present. Then-JBD CEO Vic Alhadeff was also on the trip and currently serves on the board of SBS as a non-executive director.
SBS managing director James Taylor went on a sponsored trip in 2019, alongside now-2GB Drive host Chris O’Keefe, 2GB newsreader Amie Meehan, Nine executive James Chessell, now-deputy editor of The Australian Georgina Windsor, The Daily Telegraph’s Brad Clifton, now-Seven reporter Natasha Squarey, and then-Sky News’ Kaycie Bradford.
The Australian’s opinion editor Nicholas Jensen and columnist Gemma Tognini both returned from AIJAC-sponsored trips earlier this year, with Tognini calling the state of the Australian media landscape on Israel-Palestine “insane”.
“The majority of the Australian media have this just insane sponsorship, I guess, of the Palestinian cause, without any seeming analytical or sober-minded analysis,” Tognini said.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that a raft of MPs were also on an AIJAC-sponsored tour earlier this month, including the ALP’s Cassandra Fernando and Raff Ciccone, as well as Liberals Keith Wolahan, Andrew McLachlan and Jenny Ware.
With these tours designed to pull favourable coverage and policy settings (federal parliamentarians visit Israel at a significantly higher rate than other countries), disclosure obligations on journalists vary from outlet to outlet, with little to no consistency on whether journalists disclose their experience of a funded trip to the region before reporting back.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the border, Palestinian advocacy networks have also run tours of their own, albeit without the five-star experience of Israeli trips.
WA Senator Louise Pratt earlier this year returned from a tour organised by the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN), which in 2017 also saw now-Greens Senators David Shoebridge and Janet Rice visit the occupied territories. The same year saw APAN host a Labor contingent that included frontbencher Tony Burke, Julian Hill, Susan Templeman and Anne Urquhart, amongst others. Crikey understands that trips to Palestine organised by APAN are at least partially self-funded by participants. Crikey reporter Bernard Keane attended a tour of Palestine conducted by APAN in 2016.
The Seven Network, The Sydney Morning Herald, Guardian Australia, News Corp and the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies did not respond for comment.