By Amelie Zreika and Alana Su-Navratil
Biased media coverage of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians could signal a turning point in how the mainstream media is seen by the public, according to a panel of journalists and media academics examining the role of reporters.
Misinformation and propaganda accepted without question, prejudiced language and a lack of historical context, the panel said, have all contributed to a one-sided dialogue by the media in its reporting, that legitimises Israel’s heavyhanded response and minimises Palestinian suffering, with coverage alienating both news consumers and many journalists.
A UTS journalism department webinar on ‘Responsibilities of the News Media on Palestine’ on Friday, featuring Rawen Damen from Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism in Jordan, Zahera Harb from City, University of London, Karen Percy from the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, Dr Amy McQuire from QUT, Monica Attard from the Centre for Media Transition and Antony Loewenstein from Declassified Australia, also heard from an Australian journalist recently sacked for speaking out about media double standards on Gaza, as well as that journalists in Australian newsrooms were under pressure to not speak up or they risked losing their jobs.
Damen, the director general of Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism, who has trained over 250 journalists working in the Gaza Strip, said an immediate ceasefire was needed.
“What’s happening is unbearable and unbelievable,” she said. “It’s a political turning point, but it’s also a media turning point.
“For the last month, colleagues in the Arab world – in the Middle East and North Africa – to a great extent, lost trust with the main media stream, especially in English language coming from different places, and that never happened before.
“We have been seeing conflicts in the region for a long time and… we have seen what has happened in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, but never what’s happening this time.”
She added, in American newsrooms, 50 per cent of workers were not happy with their own coverage of the conflict, and much of the public was now getting its “information directly from citizen journalists” in Gaza.
Harb, the International Journalism Studies lead at City, University of London, said history, semantics and context were essential components of any coverage of the 56-year military occupation of the Gaza Strip and West Bank by Israel, but for much of the media the conflict began on October 7.
“Ignore the history and the context and the coverage is bound to be one-sided,” she added.
It is very hard for journalists to stand up and say something in their newsrooms… saying something actually does potentially mean a job loss.
“The current coverage of the war on Gaza is no different. We have seen many attempts by journalists to stand up and cover the news in a balanced [way]… but what we’ve seen with much of the British coverage it is actually falling short on getting the semantics right.”
The panel, organised by Professor James Goodman from UTS’s Communications Faculty, discussed double standards in reporting, including the lack of prominence of stories about suffering in Gaza and the demonisation of Palestinians, of whom 11,000 have now died in retaliatory strikes by Israel, following the attack by Hamas.
“For over four weeks, water, electricity, fuel and food have been cut to the people in Gaza, but the editorials of our major newspapers deny this is collective punishment, let alone a possible genocide in the making,” said the panel’s chair Martin Newman, the coordinator of Media Law and Ethics in UTS’s journalism school.
“We are seeing huge protests… [which] only occur when governments aren’t listening, and also to an extent, the media aren’t either. If you look at the mainstream media today and its response to Gaza, we don’t see that urgency reflected in the headlines or the front pages.”
The panel also noted that media reporting of protests was minimised or ignored, with coverage often focused on crowd control, rather than the issues being protested, while attendance figures were downplayed.
McQuire, a Darumbal and South Sea Islander journalist and academic from QUT, said an ultimatum was put to Palestinian people in Australia and overseas by the media.
“You can have a voice, but it is always a conditional voice,” she told the audience of about 100 people. “It is conditional on whether you speak within the parameters of the discourse that has already silenced you.”
Every interview of a Palestinian, she said, was begun: “Do you condemn Hamas?”
“They can’t talk about this [their experiences] unless they first condemn Hamas, and if they don’t, everything else they say afterwards is silenced, or deemed too radical or even untruthful,” she added.
Loewenstein, journalist and co-founder of Declassified Australia, said it was important for journalists to understand and be transparent about the agendas of organisations referenced and quoted by them on the conflict.
WE MADE HISTORY! 🇵🇸
Today London saw the BIGGEST Palestine march in British history and Britain’s largest protest since 2003.
The people say: CEASEFIRE NOW‼️ pic.twitter.com/In2ctRp4I8
— Leanne M. (@LeanneMohamad) November 11, 2023
“One of the things that has been really revealing in the last month… is how, so often, much of the mainstream media – and I’m talking here not just about the so-called conservative press News Limited, but also ABC and, frankly, The Guardian and others, and Fairfax and Channel Nine, the Herald and The Age, that basically make a presumption that the loudest most prominent Jewish voices are the ones that represent the Jewish community,” he said.
“You have key lobby groups in Australia representing, so they claim, the Jewish community. Their agenda for years.. is very pro-occupation, pro-Israeli government, uncritical towards the brutal pogroms that are happening in Palestine for years.
“My comment to journalists is, be critical and questioning of who these organisations are. I think the media and journalists have certain lobbyists on speed dial. It is a lot easier to speak to a lobbyist you’ve known for years than to find a potentially more critical Jewish voice.”
Both Harb and Damen said debunking myths and false accusations spread through the media was vitally important, using the unproven allegation of the beheadings of babies that had spread as far as the US president Joe Biden.
“It is the journalists’ responsibility to attribute information to their sources and not present them as facts [if they] cannot be independently verified,” Harb said.
She added inside sources at some UK newspapers said there was a rush to publish information from Israeli officials without any process of verification.
Percy, the federal president of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, said many problems had been exposed in the Australian media sector as a result of the current conflict, with the industry “fighting a lot of fires on a lot of fronts”.
She added journalists were overworked and pressured to consider click rates and engagement rates.
“It is very hard for journalists to stand up and say something in their newsrooms … a lot of them are in precarious work scenarios,” she told the audience. “Saying something actually does potentially mean a job loss.
“Organisations are very very frightened of getting things wrong and sometimes are probably hiding behind that.”
Where else could you see 10,000 deaths in a month and it could be seen as ungrievable? That’s because of the dehumanisation of a people.
The panel also heard from journalist Mohamad Youssef, who was sacked by Channel Ten four weeks ago for commenting in a LinkedIn post about double standards in the reporting on Israel and the Palestinians.
“It was a general comment,” Youssef, who worked at Ten for 18 months, told the audience. “I got fired because I didn’t take it down. I think it’s very sad that somebody can question what the media is doing incorrectly and then they get fired from their job.
“I don’t think I’m the only person this has happened to, it’s happened to many.”
Attard, co-director of the Centre for Media Transition, said: “I don’t think it’s enough to employ people of diverse backgrounds if you are not prepared to incorporate their lived experience into your editorial policies.
“What we need to see more of is organisations and news consumers demanding that organisations are upfront and transparent about how they are covering things and why they are covering things.”
Percy urged the audience to report to media watchdogs such as the Australian Communications and Media Authority and Australian Press Council if they felt codes of ethics had been breached.
McQuire said the loudest narrative got the most attention, and there was an “acceptable discourse” and a “less acceptable discourse, which is the language of the oppressed”.
“I think this is a fact of silencing – deliberate silencing of Palestinian voices who are an Indigenous people,” she added.
“Silencing is insidious because not only does it cement the status of the ‘other’ as unworthy of grief, and as bodies marked for destruction, but it also refuses to acknowledge the imaginings that the Palestinians had for their future.
“Where else could you see 10,000 deaths in a month and it could be seen as ungrievable? That’s because of the dehumanisation of a people.”
Audience-member and former journalist and academic Wendy Bacon said bias was structured into the media.
“One of those ways of course is silencing. You have absences as well as you have presences,” she added.
“News Corp is an advocacy organisation. It advocates certain positions. Bias is structured, meaning is structured into the media.”
Main image by Central News with supplied pics.