The Coverage of Israel’s Assault on Palestine Reveals an Abandonment of Journalism’s Core Principles
From disparaging commentariat pieces to ostensibly balanced news broadcasts, we have seen many tacitly supporting egregious Israeli state violence.
I am terrified at the moral apathy spewing forth from the self-declared progressive voices. I am disgusted by the cruel calculus wielded to justify the slaughter of non-White people. I am horrified at the alacrity with which the West has mobilised to support Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
But most of all, I am furious with how most foreign coverage and commentary surrounding the escalating violence has abandoned the founding principles of journalism.
These are universally known tenets. Everyone who has worked in the news industry, or spent any time at a journalism school, can recite them. The tenets of the Fourth Estate writ large; speak truth to power; question the claims of authority; maintain balance in your coverage; and always be wary of single-source stories.
But when it comes to covering the violence perpetrated by colonial states scores of hitherto well-respected journalists are apparently more than happy to jettison them. The new gospel for many is to treat power as truth; to conflate support for the colonised with support for terrorism; to pretend the slaughter of civilians by Israel does not constitute a war crime; and to reserve the need for corroboration only for Palestinian claims, not Israeli allegations.
First came the swiftly debunked claim that Hamas beheaded 40 babies, uncritically spread from behind the camera to even the White House. One of the key proponents in propagating that false claim is Bel Trew, the International Correspondent for The Independent. Her paper ran the headline, despite clearly stating “it is impossible to verify” the claims of her source; a lone Israeli Occupational Forces officer. This officer, David Ben Zion, has a history of comments calling for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, as Mondoweiss has documented.
So, we have a single-source story that somehow makes the front-page despite it being “impossible to verify”. The “source” is part of an occupational force that has colonised Palestine for decades, and who personally has called for the destruction of its people.
This is not merely sloppy journalism. This is, to borrow a concept from Paul Linebarger, atrocity propaganda. A deliberate false claim of egregious violence reported as fact.
The deleterious effects coverage like this has on public discourse is two-fold. Similar to other methods of misinformation, atrocity propaganda damages public trust into the coverage of actual atrocities (such as the systemic wiping out of at least 45 family lineages in Palestine by Israel).
But it also serves a more dangerous psychological function; that of inciting atrocities and violence in revenge. A few days after this false story spread (which the Israeli Occupational Forces have subsequently refused to verify), a 71-year-old white man attacked his Palestinian neighbours and stabbed their six-year-old son to death.
The boy was stabbed twenty-six times. The killer had confronted his mother a few days earlier about the October 7th Hamas attack on Israel.
Then came the bombing of the Al-Ahli Arab hospital. We as of yet do not conclusively know whether Israel or Hamas were responsible for the bombing.
However, multiple news investigations, from Channel 4, to Al Jazeera, to Forensic Architecture (the latter of which has been instrumental in verifying Israeli war-crimes in the past) have proven that aspects of Israel’s statements surrounding the bombing have been utter fabrications — which begs the question about why Israel felt the need to lie in the first place.
Verification suddenly became important for foreign correspondents who had been more than happy to run with “impossible to verify” stories about alleged Hamas atrocities. Basic journalistic principles suddenly mattered when it came to covering a potential war-crime (one, frankly, of many) that implicates Israel.
Why the double standard?
Israel, meanwhile, has been busy adding to its body-count of murdering journalists. A week after a UN investigation into the Israeli assassination of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh concluded it had “intentionally” killed her , Israeli carpet bombing killed the family of Al Jazeera’s Gaza bureau chief Wael Al-Dahdouh.
Hours after burying his family, Wael was back to work. Despite attempts by Israel to ban Al Jazeera (which, unlike many of its Western counterparts, remains the only major international news organisation to report from within the Gaza Strip), and the numerous allegations from reporters on the ground that Israel is deliberately targeting them, many refuse to shirk their responsibility to show the world what is happening.
Approximately 27 journalists have been killed since October 7th; 22 Palestinian, 4 Israeli, and 1 Lebanese.
There has, predictably, been no outcry from Western media about their colleagues being slaughtered for daring to *actually* speak truth to and, more critically, ABOUT power. Issam Abdallah, a video journalist working for the international press agency Reuters, was killed by Israeli rocket strikes earlier in October.
In its own coverage of his death, Reuters studiously utilised the passive voice to avoid naming the culprit — another breaking of journalistic principles, albeit one more to do with writing technique than morals. It is a technique many have used to report on Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. The former are killed by assailants and villains; the latter simply passively expire.
In addition to uncritical coverage about Israel’s systemic eradication of Gaza, and the many signs that a second Nakba is fast approaching, there has been a chorus of liberal commentariat pieces decrying the unprecedented public support for the Palestinian cause.
Smug and sneering in tone, many opine about the real reasons behind the swell of public support for Palestine to be free, and for Israel to face repercussions for the ongoing ethnic cleansing.
They tend to follow one of two well-worn tropes; either branding everyone marching in support of Palestine and calling for an immediate ceasefire as antisemites, or as supporters of Hamas.
The BBC, for example, falsely described the first Palestinian solidarity march in London as a “pro-Hamas rally” before issuing a flaccid apology.
Sky News’ Kay Burley falsely claimed that the Palestinian Ambassador to the UK, Huzam Zomlot, had “basically said that the Israelis had it coming” in reference to Hamas’ attacks on October 7th. Days later, the broadcaster issued a similarly tepid apology. The journalist has yet to apologise for slandering a man who has admirably maintained his composure despite losing many family members to Israeli airstrikes.
Andrew Marr, a veteran BBC journalist and political editor of the New Statesmen, wrote a contemptible comment piece a on October 23rd claiming “hate-swollen faces marching in anti-Semitic demonstrations…” has supposedly driven Britain into an insane binary — “Hamas or Benjamin Netanyahu”.
It’s a rather bold step for Marr, who has always looked like he suffers from a particularly persistent strain of gout, to comment on other people’s appearances. But it is utterly ludicrous to decry a supposed “insane binary” when advocating for precisely that.
No one marched in support of Hamas in the UK last weekend. I know; because I was there. No one will either. And calls for ceasefire to ensure humanitarian aid, even as the Israeli death machine rolls on and states its intent to wipe out Palestine, are a little bit more than insipid “haranguing”.
But perhaps it is a tad much to expect anything less than abject cowardice and moral apathy from a class of media commentators who treat issues impacting Brown, Black, and Indigenous bodies as public schoolboy debates.
Facile chinwagging does not a reporter make. Commitment to showing the truth, ugly, brutal and bloody though it may be, does.
George Orwell once wrote that “the further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it”.
The genocide is happening in real-time. We cannot comprehend the atrocities, so swiftly are they transmitted via our social media channels. Our language seems too pedestrian to convey the full horror of what we are witnessing. Our voices seem small and meaningless in the face of overwhelming institutional support for murder.
But hope we must. To bear witness is a sacred duty. The most revolutionary act one can do, as Rosa Luxemburg put it, is, and always will be, to proclaim loudly what is happening.
The vast misinformation bombarding us from every angle appears to have not dented public understanding of the Israel’s actions in Gaza. You don’t need to be an expert or have a degree to understand that the idea of collective punishment is antithetical to international humanitarian law, and a violation of basic human rights.
If calling for an end to the violence, and dignity and life for the Palestinian people is “picking a side” then it is the side of hope, of light, of love.
All oppressors and empires think they are eternal, and that the violence embedded in their foundation will ensure their permanence. Their ruins litter the pages of human history.
From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will be Free.