Motaz Azaiza mural, East London Motaz Azaiza mural, East London. Photo: Shabbir Lakha

As the carnage continues in Gaza, R. Ahmed argues that much of the Western media has been complicit

I wrote an article back in October discussing the complicity of the Western mainstream media (MSM) in Israel’s genocide of Gaza. More than 100 days since it started, not much has changed except that the media are increasingly floundering in their attempts to sanitize the brutal warfare being inflicted by the settler colonial state of Israel against the defenseless  indigenous population of Palestine. Robert Pape, the US military historian, has described the reality of the situation: “Gaza” he says, “is one of the most intense civilian punishment campaigns in history. It now sits comfortably in the top quartile of the most devastating bombing campaigns ever.” 

Since 7th October, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor reports more than 1.9 million people have been internally displaced in Gaza, with more than 67,000 homes completely destroyed and nearly 180,000 homes partially destroyed. More than 25,000 Palestinians have been killed, including at least 12,000 children. UNICEF spokesperson, James Elder has called it “a war on children.” The healthcare system has been systematically destroyed with only six partially functioning hospitals out of 36. More than 370 healthcare workers have been killed and there are only six ambulances left. The World Health Organization (WHO) warned that disease could pose a bigger threat to human life than bombings in Gaza. MSM’s consistent failure to report the truth is nothing short of journalistic malpractice and they must be held accountable for what is in effect helping to enable the genocide in Gaza.

The  language being employed by media outlets to describe this situation is criminally callous, deliberate in its intent to not only misinform the public but also continue the shocking dehumanization of Palestinians. However, there is increasing discontentment in newsrooms with individual journalists speaking out against the media bias. 

Where is the outrage? 

In his Guardian article titled: ‘Israel is murdering Palestinian journalists in Gaza. Where is the outrage?’, journalist Chris McGreal asked, “is there a lack of sympathy because the victims aren’t American or European?” More than 100 Palestinian journalists have been killed by Israel. More journalists have been killed in Gaza in 3 months than in all of World War II and the Vietnam war. The silence of the MSM is damning. 

According to international humanitarian law, the deliberate targeting of media professionals is prohibited. In Gaza, wearing the PRESS vest puts journalists more at risk when it should serve as protection. Israel kills journalists because it does not want the world to see the truth. The US State Department continues to gaslight the public, stating they have not seen any evidence that Israel is intentionally targeting journalists. Leading press freedom groups and human rights organizations wrote a letter to President Biden this month, citing credible reports that Israel was responsible for the deaths of journalists. The letter mentioned the deliberate targeting of a car in which three journalists were traveling in on 7th January, two of whom were killed and the other critically injured. One of them was Al Jazeera Bureau Chief in Gaza, Wael Al-Dahdouh’s eldest son, Hamza. 

This was not the first time Al-Dahdouh has had to face such devastating loss during this genocide. His wife, son, daughter and grandchild were killed in an Israeli airstrike in October whilst he was reporting. Subsequently, he was injured in another Israeli airstrike and his cameraman/friend was killed. Just hours after burying Hamza, Al-Dahdouh was back reporting. 

He made a moving tribute to his son which ended with the following statement: 

“… it was said in the past that the freedom of opinion and freedom of expression and all the work that journalists do… it was said that our job is guaranteed by international and humanitarian law. However, 107 journalists have fallen. Their blood has been spilled on this land… as if no one is seeing what is happening here. I call upon the entire world to put an end to all this killing that is taking journalists one after the other.”

Al Dahdouh’s courage, journalistic integrity and commitment to showing the world the truth cannot be overstated. He was finally able to leave Gaza last week to receive medical treatment in Cairo. 

Al-Dahdouh and the countless Palestinian journalists who have risked everything have put MSM to shame. There has been next to no solidarity from mainstream journalists for their colleagues in Gaza. The hypocrisy is all too clear. When employees of France’s controversial satirical magazine Charlie Hebedo were attacked in 2015, western politicians and media made a huge show of solidarity and paid tribute to the victims. As Indian journalist Rana Ayyub wrote, “Palestinian journalists have been left to die, and we are complicit”.

We are indebted to Palestinian journalists who have shown us the reality and horrific atrocities being committed against Palestinians in our name with our taxes and bombs. This week, Palestinian journalist Noor Harazeen managed to get her children to safety in Cairo but returned to Gaza to continue reporting. The personal sacrifices made by these brave Palestinian journalists so the world can see the truth should never be forgotten or go in vain. 

A study conducted by data scientists Dana Najjar and Jan Lietava looked at thousands of BBC articles between 7th October to 2nd December. They found a “systematic disparity in how Palestinian and Israeli deaths are treated” by the BBC. The words ‘murder’, ‘massacre’ and ‘slaughter’ are almost exclusively reserved for Israeli deaths. Mother, daughter, father, son, grandmother, grandfather, granddaughter and grandson are more likely to be linked to Israelis than Palestinians. The use of ‘killed’ when referring to Israelis and ‘died’ for Palestinians has continued. The study also found that as the number of Palestinians killed increased, the BBC news coverage did not reflect this with the mention of Israeli and Palestinian deaths remaining the same. A separate study conducted by openDemocracy, which looked at broadcasts by BBC One news between 7th October to 4th November found similar results. The phrases – ‘murder’, ‘murderous’, ‘mass murder’, ‘brutal murder’ and ‘merciless murder’ were used a total of 52 times for Israeli deaths but never for Palestinian deaths. Independent British journalist, Owen Jones, said the study shows that “the BBC coverage treats Palestinian life as having much, much less worth than Israeli life.” 

The Intercept carried out a quantitative analysis of the media coverage between October 7th and November 24th, looking at more than 1,000 articles. They found that major newspapers like The New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times showed a consistent bias against Palestinians, they “disproportionately emphasized Israeli deaths… used emotive language to describe the killings of Israelis, but not Palestinians; and offered lopsided coverage of antisemitic acts in the U.S., while largely ignoring anti-Muslim racism…” For every two Palestinian deaths, Palestinians were mentioned once. For every Israeli death, Israelis were mentioned eight times. Words like ‘slaughter’, ‘massacre’ and ‘horrific’ are reserved almost exclusively for Israelis. They also found that young Israelis were referred to as ‘children’ but young Palestinians were described as ‘people.’ Sky News UK provoked outrage this month with the anchor, Sean Bell, referring to a four year old Palestinian girl killed by the Israeli military at a checkpoint near Jerusalem as a “three or four year old young lady.” Bell also described the incident as “accidental” and “tragic events.”

Another similar study looking at cable news (CNN, Fox News, MSNBC) between October 7th to November 7th by The Column found “the three largest US news media channels have displayed a clear and quantifiable bias in favor of Israel in its war on Gaza.” The research found the spokesperson for the Israeli Occupation Forces, Peter Lerner was broadcast live on all three channels for a total of 19 days out of the first 30 days. Throughout these interviews, Lerner spoke freely without being challenged. Israelis were mentioned way more than Palestinians despite the continuing increase in Palestinian death toll. Again, words like ‘massacre’ are almost exclusively reserved for Israelis. Despite the overwhelming number of Palestinian children killed, they received only 36% of the news coverage compared to Israeli children who received 64%. 

Associate Professor at Hamad Bin Khalifa University, Mark Jones, who is a specialist on disinformation and propaganda also examined the UK press coverage on Gaza. He found similar language bias when referring to Palestinian and Israeli deaths across the board, including outlets like Guardian. In the first 14 days of the genocide, he found that the widely circulated tabloid, the Daily Mail had not mentioned the cumulative toll of Palestinian deaths once on their front page despite mentioning the Israeli death toll. He described the marginalization of the Palestinians and “double-speak” by the media as part of the ongoing dehumanization. I mistakenly suggested that Piers Morgan was an exception to the generally biased way that the issue has been dealt with in the UK mainstream. Subsequent hostile interviews he has conducted with various pro-Palestine figures have revealed that he shares the pro-Israel MSM prejudice.     

Propaganda and misinformation 

The Intercept released a shocking report this month that CNN has been running its coverage of Gaza past CNN’s Jerusalem Bureau, which is subject to the Israeli Occupation Forces censor that decides which subjects are off limits for news organizations to cover.The military censor recently restricted eight topics, including information about hostages. Foreign reporters must sign a document agreeing to abide by these demands to obtain a press pass in Israel. A CNN staff member told The Intercept: “every single Israel-Palestine-related line for reporting must seek approval from the [Jerusalem] bureau — or, when the bureau is not staffed, from a select few handpicked by the bureau and senior management — from which lines are most often edited with a very specific nuance.” The Israeli High Court ruled that the government can continue to prohibit the entry of foreign journalists in Gaza. Very few foreign journalists have been allowed into Gaza but they are embedded with the Israeli Occupation Forces.

The New York Times (NYT) released a distressing article at the end of December – ‘’Screams without words’ – How Hamas Weaponized Sexual Violence.’ It was a harrowing read, with devastating testimony and garnered global attention. Soon after however, the family of Gul Abdush who was killed, described as the “girl in the black dress” in the article, denied that she was raped. Abdush’s brother in law accused NYT of manipulating his family into participating by misleading them about their editorial angle. The Israeli police had also released a statement explaining they cannot locate the eyewitnesses of rape on October 7th or connect the testimonies published. The Grayzone have called on the NYT to publicly address the comments made by Abdush’s family and to also respond to their thorough investigation debunking the testimonies of key eye-witnesses quoted by the NYT. 

As the research shows, language has been an integral part of MSM strategy. The insidious use of phrases like, ‘Hamas-run Gaza’ are deliberate. It obfuscates the reality that Gaza has been under a brutal and illegal Israeli blockade for the last 17 years, with Israel having total control of what goes in and out of Gaza. The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) reported that more than 90% of Gaza’s population are facing high levels of acute food insecurity. The passive terminology used in MSM headlines such as “people are starving in Gaza” and “hunger spreading in Gaza”, disguises the intentional Israeli policy to starve Gaza’s civilian population, a form of collective punishment. Recently, video footage from Gaza showed the Israeli military shooting at Palestinians approaching limited food trucks after notifying them of their arrival. UN experts stated that amidst the tightening of the blockade that has “prevented people from escaping and left them without food, water, medicine and fuel for weeks now, despite international appeals to provide access for critical humanitarian aid… intentional starvation amounts to a war crime.” This is yet another example of MSM failing to hold Israel accountable. 

On the occasions that MSM reports the devastating death and casualty toll in Gaza, it is usually prefaced with the likes of – “Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.” This is calculated to create doubt about the official numbers being reported. The British medical journal, The Lancet demonstrated that there is no evidence of inflated mortality reporting from the Gaza Ministry of Health. International organizations like the UN, WHO and Human Rights Watch have stated the figures reported are broadly accurate. The UN also stated that the figures provided by the Palestinian Health Ministry for previous conflicts have always been credible. MSM continue to demonstrate their callous disregard for Palestinian life. 

Media racism 

Rupert Mudoch owned TalkTV has been busy pushing a xenophobic, Islamophobic and anti-Palestinian agenda. One particular reporter has sparked outrage for her repeated racist commentary – Julia Hartley-Brewer. Viewers were disgusted with her appalling treatment of Dr Mustafa Barghouti, a very well respected Palestinian physician, politician and the General Secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative. Dr Barghouti’s long list of accomplishments also include President of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees and he was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. During the interview, Brewer perpetuated racist tropes against Arab and Muslim men, screaming: “maybe you are just not used to women talking to you!” Dr Barghouti was praised for his calm, polite and courteous manner in spite of Brewer’s disgraceful behaviour. Subsequently, Ofcom received more than 15,000 complaints. Despite the widespread outrage, she has remained on the network. In another interview, she asked whether other Arab countries should take displaced Palestinians in Gaza, justifying that “forced expulsions” have happened countless times in history, calling it a “new life.” In his analysis, Owen Jones reflected how Julia Hartley-Brewer is not just some raging extremist but is representative of the western media’s “raging contempt for the Palestinian people.”  

The MSM have continued to suppress Palestinian voices. In an interview with Al-Jazeera, Palestinian journalist and co-founder of We Are Not Numbers, Ahmed Alnaouq, explained that Palestinians are expected to “prove their worthiness to western audiences.” 21 of Alnaouq’s family members were killed by Israel and he described how MSM interrogated him, asking for proof of everything before he was even allowed to go on air. He contrasted this to MSM’s treatment of the events occurring on October 7th when false claims like “Hamas beheaded 40 babies”, went unchecked. Independent journalist Pacinthe Mattar described it as “trauma porn”, where MSM want Palestinians to talk about their pain and loss but with no historical context or accountability. This was echoed by a British Emergency doctor who returned from a medical mission in Gaza this month. He reflected on the media circus, “there has been a real fixation on the most horrific injuries that we saw… and we describe those injuries… but the moment that we start to talk about the perpetrator of that violence… we seem to lose the media’s interest.”

Toe the line or else  

In November, over 750 journalists from dozens of news organizations signed an open letter condemning the killing of Palestinian journalists by Israel and criticized MSM’s coverage. It was a powerful letter calling out western newsroom leaders for “dehumanizing rhetoric that has served to justify the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians; and undermining of Palestinian, Arab and Muslim perspectives, dismissing them as unreliable and have invoked inflammatory language that reinforces Islamaphobic and racist tropes.” The letter also called out the spreading of misinformation by Israeli officials and failure to scrutinize the indiscriminate killing of civilians in Gaza. The journalists concluded, “this is our job: to hold power to account. Otherwise we risk becoming accessories to genocide.” 

Signing such a letter is risky. In the last three months, numerous journalists have lost their jobs. For example, Professor Michael Eisen, the Jewish editor of eLife (medical and life sciences academic journal) was fired for praising the “moral clarity” of the satirical Onion magazine’s story: ‘Dying Gazans Criticized for Not Using Last Words to Condemn Hamas.’ Another e-Life editor, Lara Urban, resigned in protest stating that Eisen was “fired for making use of his freedom of speech to stand up – once again – for the people who were silenced…” 

Australian Broadcasting Channel (ABC News) dismissed Lebanese-Australian reporter, Antoinette Lattouf just three days into her short-term contract after she posted a Human Rights Watch report, alleging that Israel was using starvation as a weapon of war on her social media. The Sydney Morning Herald recently obtained Whatsapp messages showing a coordinated campaign to oust the reporter, revealing that the group Lawyers for Israel had pressured ABC management. Lattouf is challenging the unlawful dismissal. 80 ABC journalists have threatened to walk out if their demands of more transparency of ABC’s complaints process are not met. 

Prominent Russian-American Jewish journalist and activist, Masha Gessen wrote an extraordinary piece in the New Yorker, ‘In the Shadow of the Holocaust’, likening Gaza to a ghetto: “Not like the Jewish ghetto in Venice or an inner-city ghetto in America but like a Jewish ghetto in an Eastern European country occupied by Nazi Germany… it also would have given us the language to describe what is happening in Gaza now. The ghetto is being liquidated.” Almost immediately, they were punished. The Hannah-Arendt literary prize awarded to Gessen for political thought under police protection in Germany was canceled. Gessen did later receive the prize but in a scaled down ceremony. Hannah Arendt, the influential German-American Jewish political scientist and philosopher was forced to flee Germany in 1933. Reporter Samantha Hill wrote in the Guardian, “the irony is almost too thick to cut”, pointing out that Hannah Arendt would have been canceled in Germany today for her political position on Israel and opinions about contemporary zionism.

Renowned journalist Mehdi Hasan quit MSNBC, after being one of three Muslim correspondents to be side-lined by the network in October. Hasan was one of the few top journalists in the US to hold top figures accountable, including Israeli officials. As Nathan J Robinson wrote in Novara Media: “Mehdi Hasan’s exit from MSNBC is an embarrassment to US journalism.” Egyptian-American journalist, Ayman Mohyeldin has remained and is an important voice on MSNBC, providing much needed context to western audiences. He also interviewed Wael Al-Dahdouh shortly before he left Gaza.

Award winning African-American journalist, Jazmine Hughes was forced to resign from the New York Times (NYT) after signing an open letter by an ad hoc coalition, Writers Against the War on Gaza. The letter with over 7,500 signatories expressed solidarity with the people of Palestine, “victims of a genocidal war the United States government continues to fund and arm with military aid…” and expressed opposition to the “silencing of dissent and to racist and revisionist media cycles, further perpetuated by Israel’s attempts to bar reporting in Gaza, where journalists have been both denied entry and targeted by Israeli forces.” The powerful statement also condemned “those in our industries who continue to enable apartheid and genocide” explaining that “we must do all we possibly can to reject narratives that soothe Western complicity in ethnic cleansing.” Jamie Keiles, a Jewish Trans journalist also signed the letter and resigned from the NYT as a contributor. He explained he would “not support an ethnostate anywhere else in the world for any other group and I don’t support it for my own people”, and his resignation was a form of protest against the institution’s double standards of not offering employment security whilst impeaching on contributors free speech without any clear guidelines.

The silencing of journalists in the West is nothing new. Nothing exemplifies this more than the persecution of Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks which exposed US war crimes in Iraq. He is currently confined to his cell in Belmarsh prison in the UK for 23 hours a day. This month, Declassified UK revealed that files show the UK government had been monitoring renowned Australian investigative journalist, John Pilger who passed away last month. They tried to discredit Pilger by encouraging MSM to attack him. Pilger is well known for exposing the US, UK and Australia for their imperialist government policies through his excellent documentaries. The West actively suppresses independent dissenting voices that question their policies, whilst portraying themselves as a beacon of freedom of press to the world. 

Omissions 

A key strategy of MSM has been omission, from completely disregarding Palestinian journalists and not covering the huge pro-Palestine protests happening around the world to not reporting on the continuous genocidal rhetoric by Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This also extends to ignoring key non-Palestinian voices, for example, Professor Norman Finkelstein who is widely regarded as an expert on Gaza. He is the son of holocaust survivors, and has spent over 40 years researching the Palestine-Israel conflict and the politics of the holocaust. He is the author of several books, including Gaza: An Inquest into Its Martyrdom. Other notable figures ignored by MSM include Israeli peace activist Miko Peled, Israeli journalist Gideon Levy and Ofer Cassif who is the only Israeli MP to support South Africa’s (SA) case of genocide against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). 

Astonishingly, the MSM coverage of this defining moment in history has been limited. A moment when a former apartheid state has filed a case of genocide against the current apartheid state of Israel, who were once staunch allies of white apartheid SA. This is the first time in 75 years that anyone has tried to hold Israel accountable for their war crimes. The extraordinarily detailed 84 page filing by SA to the ICJ was not deemed newsworthy by MSM. On January 11th, SA presented their blistering oral argument at the ICJ followed by Israel’s lackluster defence the following day. MSM did not air SA’s presentation but did broadcast Israel’s defence. The outlandish hypocrisy demonstrated by MSM indicates they may have given up the pretense of journalistic objectivity entirely. 

MSM has continued to ignore numerous investigations that have exposed major flaws with the official Israeli narrative surrounding the events of October 7th, uncovered by independent media entities like The Grayzone News and Electronic Intifada. Israeli officials have quietly revised the Israeli death toll from 1,400 to 1,000. Evidence also shows that many of these were soldiers, not civilians. Pulitzer-prize winning American journalist and recipient of the Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism, Chris Hedges pointed out, “growing evidence that in the chaotic fighting that took place once Hamas militants entered Israel on October 7, the Israeli military decided to target not only Hamas fighters but the Israeli captives with them… The newspaper reported that Israeli commanders were, “Compelled to request an aerial strike against its own facility inside the Erez Crossing to Gaza in order to repulse the terrorists who had seized control.” MSM’s conscious decision to not interrogate Israeli officials is an indictment for their support of the genocide in Gaza. 

Independent media 

Free media is essential to achieving a healthy functioning democracy. For his final interview on MSNBC, Mehdi Hasan talked with Motaz Azaiza, the 24 year old Palestinian photojournalist who has amassed over 17 million followers worldwide. He has risked his life countless times to show western audiences devastating real time footage from Gaza. Motaz’s message for US viewers was stark: “Don’t call yourself a free person if you can’t make changes, if you can’t stop a genocide that is still ongoing.” He is right of course. The revolutionary African American leader Malcolm X warned us of the power of the media: “The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent… Because they control the minds of the masses…This is the press, an irresponsible press… If you aren’t careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” With the disparity of MSM coverage and the live footage coming out of Gaza, more people in the West are turning to independent news outlets. 

War by media

Despite the continuing carnage, Gaza has started slipping from MSM headlines. This is, however, the most documented genocide in history thanks to the heroic efforts of many courageous Palestinian journalists in Gaza. They have exposed the moral bankruptcy of the West including that of the MSM. The devastating footage has been viewed by millions of people around the world with more people questioning the West’s double standards. Motaz finally evacuated Gaza last week. There was an outpour of gratitude from people around the world, thanking him for his bravery and relentless work in documenting the genocide. Recently, the NYT had the gall to publish: ‘A Glimpse Inside a Devastated Gaza.’ Two NYT journalists had been given ‘exclusive access’, embedded with the Israeli military. Ignoring the hundreds of Palestinian journalists who have been showing us the unprecedented devastation for the last 100+ days, whilst being murdered in record numbers demonstrates the arrogance and racist mentality of MSM that Palestinian journalists are not worth listening to. In his last essay for Declassified Australia before he died, John Pilger wrote, “today, war by media is a key task of so-called mainstream journalism, reminiscent of that described by a Nuremberg prosecutor in 1945: ‘Before each major aggression, with some few exceptions based on expediency, they initiated a press campaign calculated to weaken their victims and to prepare the German people psychologically… In the propaganda system… it was the daily press and the radio that were the most important weapons.’ It is a stark reminder of the essential role that MSM plays in western imperialism and its crimes against humanity, evidenced by the recent pro-war rhetoric when the US and UK bombed Yemen to punish the Houthis for their economic blockade of Israel in their efforts to stop the genocide in Gaza. It’s time this deadly propaganda machine is dismantled and they are held accountable.

Join the Media Workers 4 Palestine protest outside BBC HQ on Portland Place, London, W1A 1AA, on Wednesday 7 February as part of the national day of action

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