Image Credit: Unsplash
Image Credit: Unsplash

Israel-Palestine and the demise of journalism

By Lena Schega

A recent study conducted by The Intercept revealed major newspaper’s slanted coverage of Israel’s assault on Palestine. This comes after 1484 journalists signed an open letter speaking out against Western bias in reporting on Israel and Palestine.

According to The Intercept’s quantitative analysis study, the coverage of the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post of Israel-Palestine shows a significant bias against Palestine. This study also exposed a gross imbalance in the coverage of Palestinian deaths compared with Israeli deaths, with Israeli deaths mentioned 16 times more per death than Palestinian deaths. The study also found that Islamophobic abuse and rhetoric was reported on fewer occasions than antisemitic acts, with a total of 79 mentions of the terms “Islamophobia”/“Islamophobic” and 549 mentions of “antisemitism”/ “antisemitic” in the over 1,000 articles analysed by The Intercept. Emotive language, the study reveals, is almost exclusively reserved for Israelis who were killed by Palestinians, not Palestinians who were killed by Israelis. The media giants use the terms “slaughter”, “massacre”, “atrocity”, and “horrific” to describe Israeli deaths, but not as often for Palestinian deaths. The emotional weight attributed to those deaths is severely imbalanced, resulting in the abdication of moral clarity and the dehumanisation of Palestinians, whose stories are omitted and whose names, faces, and voices rarely make it onto the front page. Legal terms that are defined by international human rights organizations, such as “apartheid,” “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide” do not, unlike sensationalism, perpetuate bias or reinforce Islamophobic and racist tropes.

In January 2024, Sky News was criticised for describing the killing of a three-year-old Palestinian toddler as the death of a “young lady”, after “accidentally a stray bullet found its way into the van”. The Guardian explicitly described the Israeli hostages as “women and children” while they referred to Palestinian prisoners as “women and people aged 18 and younger”. Overall, the mention of the word “children” in headlines remains scant, despite Israel killing more than 10,000 infants and children since the start of its attack on the Gaza Strip on 7 October 2023.

Active and passive voices are used inconsistently to describe killings across a variety of major media outlets. Whereas active voice is often used for Israeli victims, for example, “rockets kill Israelis”, Palestinian deaths are written in passive voice, such as “lives found ended” (which The Washington Post retroactively changed to “found decomposing” due to social media backlash). In some cases, agency is altogether absent, for example in The Guardian’s headline “people are dehydrating to death in Gaza as clean water runs out” or in The Daily Telegraph’s caption “bombs are falling less than 100m from where [the family] are sheltering” in Gaza. Such headlines imply to the audience that “dehydration” is a natural occurrence and that bombs spontaneously “fall” from the sky instead of being “dropped” by the Israeli military.

Together with perpetuation of the self-defence narrative that legitimises Israel’s aggression against Palestine, the discrediting of Palestinian sources, and the lack of necessary historical context (ignoring Israel’s oppression and illegal occupation of Palestine), the dehumanisation of Palestinians via language continues to serve to justify the ongoing genocide in Gaza and contributes to a distorted understanding of the ongoing aggression. The social impact of misinformation is fatal. It undermines trust in social structures and the media itself and exacerbates social tensions by warping sympathies and undermining the general public’s ability to engage in debate. 


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