Gaza's war reporting needs truth and full context

November 29, 2023
Protester holds sign that reads: stop both-sidesing genocide at ABC protest
A protest outside the ABC offices against its biased coverage of Israel's war on Gaza, in Gadi/Sydney on November 17. Photo: Isaac Nellist

Journalists working in mainstream media are pushing back at management censoring their coverage of Israel’s war on Gaza.

A “Letter from journalists to Australian media outlets”, released on November 24, confirms journalists’ fear that ongoing attempts to impose a Zionist lens over their reporting of the war threatens the “truth and full context”.

Journalists from the ABC, The Guardian, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Saturday Paper and The Monthly (Schwartz Media) said they were joining hundreds of journalists in the United States and elsewhere who are “appalled” at the slaughter of colleagues — Israel’s apparent targeting of journalists — and how their reporting is being restricted.

They said their duty as journalists is “to hold the powerful to account, to deliver truth and full context … without fear of political intimidation”.

“We risk losing the trust of our audiences if we fail to apply the most stringent journalistic principles and cover this conflict in full,” they said.

They made eight suggestions to improve their work, including providing historical context, transparency about journalists’ acceptance or rejection of trips to Israel, and greater scrutiny of the Benjamin Netanyahu government and military sources.

They argued powerfully about the need for “adequate coverage to credible allegations of war crimes, genocide, ethnic cleansing and apartheid, and don’t avoid using the term ‘Palestine’ where appropriate”.

They said that Australian journalists of Palestinian, Arab, Muslim and Jewish backgrounds must be trusted “to do their jobs”.

The letter was signed by many brave individuals, including junior staff, the National Media Section Committee — Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), the ABC MEAA National House Committee and the Guardian MEAA House Committee.

But it fell on deaf ears.

The SMH/Age editors admonished those complaining of bias and censorship, saying those who signed the letter would be banned from reporting on Israel’s war.

Since then, Crikey has revealed  that SMH/Age executive editor Tory Maguire and SMH editor Bevan Shields have been on Israel-sponsored trips.

Both mastheads on November 28 devoted two pages to an ad — “A newspaper ad can’t end hate. But you can” — which, while purporting to be against racism, in the current context dovetails with the notion that criticism of Israel is antisemitic.

A meeting of more than 200 ABC journalists discussed concerns, including that the national broadcaster downplayed Israel’s air strike in which Gaza-based freelance journalist Roshdi Sarraj was killed, and that they are directed to rely on talking points provided by the Israeli Defense Force.

They disclosed the ABC instructed them not to use certain words including “invasion”, “occupation”, “genocide”, “apartheid” and “ethnic cleansing” to describe Israeli government policy.

That the ABC, or any mainstream media, believes it can get away with such censorship and bias, is astounding given that Israel’s genocidal war is virtually on live feed.

As the journalists pointed out, people can see this war unfold in real time, which fuels “suspicion of the mainstream media’s ability to properly inform audiences of events on the ground”.

Even those who know little about how the colonial settler state of Israel came to be formed in 1948 can see which government has the weapons and who is dying in great numbers.

They can see which government the West is supporting unconditionally, refusing to call for a permanent ceasefire.

The ABC and other mainstream media are being shown up as propaganda outlets for Israel in its latest genocidal attack.

The huge weekly protests, largely mobilisations of Arab-Australians, calling for a political solution, has given courage to some journalists to speak out.

That a Roy Morgan November 13 poll shows 51% want Israel to stop bombing Gaza “immediately” suggests a deeper political reckoning is underway.

After the 2001 terrorist attacks of 9/11, when Western powers launched their “war on terror”, first invading Afghanistan, then Iraq, many were suckered into the racist “clash of civilisations” propaganda.

Now, however, it’s clear that the “war on terror” destroyed Afghanistan, only to hand it back to the Taliban — and Iraq is still riven by warring parties.

Why pro-Zionist editors believe their propaganda today has the same effect as it may have had 20 years ago is a mystery.

In an “information age” characterised by misinformation and censorship, free speech, honest reporting and integrity are extra important.

Green Left stands in solidarity with journalists putting up a fight to report the truth. We have been reporting on Palestinians’ right to return and to live in dignity in historic Palestine since we launched 33 years ago.

We will continue to give a platform to all voices, including anti-Zionist Jews, who are speaking out for a political solution to end Israel’s 78-year-old occupation.

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