The Conflicting Narratives And Biases Of The Media Coverage Of Gaza

Posted on October 16, 2014 in GlobeScope, Media

By Mirza Arif Beg:

Forty nine days of vociferous shelling, and pounding of rockets; close to 2,200 killings, and massive infrastructure losses. Well, this is what the latest confrontation between Hamas and the State of Israel, resulted in. How did it all begin? Three Israeli teenagers, who were kidnapped, and later on found dead, triggered the Jewish state’s rampage on the Gaza strip. Now the question arises, was this really the inception point of the mayhem which unleashed?

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Well before the abduction of the 3 Israeli teenagers, 2 Palestinian children were killed in May, but unfortunately, their deaths had fallen prey to the Western media’s apathy. As the news of Israeli teens’ killings gained momentum, it attracted the international media’s outcry. Though, Israel this time around, facilitated the movement of international journalists, in and out of Gaza (which they didn’t do in 2011-12), most of the international organizations have been accused of taking either a pro-Israeli, or a pro-Palestinian stance.

The latest offensive in Gaza, for the very first time, saw thousands of protesters in the US, France, UK, and many other countries, who were not only defiant of Israel’s blood bath in Gaza, but were in defiance of the conventional media coverage as well. In one of the protests organized outside CNN’s head-quarters in the US, Mohammad Hamad, an American-Palestinian activist, said, “The US media is absolutely biased. All we hear is pro-Israel”.

Haaretz, which is considered to be one of the most liberal newspapers in Israel, presented the real picture of the conflict. With a readership of just around 10%, owing to its image of being exceedingly liberal, Haaretz restored the objectivity in media coverage, which is evident from this example. After one of the attacks on a United Nations’ school in Rafah, that led to the death of 10 people, and injured many more, Haaretz was the only newspaper in Israel, to have reported this event online.

A few headlines read as:
The New York Times: “Airstrike near UN school kills 10.”
CNN: “UN calls airstrike near Gaza shelter moral outrage.”

Haaretz led with an article about the UN school strikes. BBC’s coverage of the Gaza conflict has also been viewed with great scepticism. It has endured wrath from both the sides. Though, BBC executives have maintained that since they have received complaints from both the sides, this means they are striking the right balance; it took BBC almost 10 days, before it started covering Gaza extensively. On July 9, when Hamas attacked Israel, its ‘World section’ read; “Israel under renewed Hamas attack”, clearly explaining its inclination. On the other hand, it didn’t waste time in putting the onus of the shooting down of MH17 in Ukraine, on Russia.

Even the National Public Radio of US, tells us about the underrepresentation of the Palestinian cause in the last 11 years. According to this article, “The head of the survey, former foreign editor, John Felton, found that the Israeli voices were heard of, or quoted in stories, more than the Palestinian ones, by a 664-448 margin. Among leaders, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was heard or quoted 772 times, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, 323 times, and the Gaza Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, not once.”.

There is a plethora of reasons as to why news organizations end up taking sides. Our views get hampered by two main reasons. One, when we always see a conflict from a historical lens; and two, it is a baggage of the religious background that we carry, as explained by the Pakistani-Canadian writer, Ali A Raza, in his blog for the Huffington Post. Cross media ownership also plays an important part, as we see anchors on Fox News, as having a totally different tone, from those on Al-Jazeera.

New York Times, as its officials claim, always tried to strike a balance in the news coverage, but could not escape its reader’s anger. “We have received more than thousand emails on a single day, just talking about a pro-Israeli, or a pro-Palestinian stance”, said Margaret Sullivan, NYT’s Public Editor.

Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for The New York Times, is of the view that a ‘good vs evil’ narrative should be kept aside, and we must recognize the legitimate grievances of both the sides. He identifies Hamas as equally responsible, as it inflicts brutality not only on Israel, but on Gaza as well, by using its residents as human shields.

At a time, when western media has been impugned repeatedly for being a promoter of anti-Semitism by many prolific scholars, VICE News doesn’t stand out of queue. VICE in its twelve part series of the recent Gaza conflict, ‘Rockets and Revenge’ tried to cover both sides very vividly but has been criticized for being anti-Israel. It won’t be wrong to say that Vice News covered the recent conflict most extensively.

From the death of Mohammad Abu Khdeir, the Palestinian teenager who was killed out of retaliation, to the very last rocket launched by Israel, Vice News was always on ground zero to report. To cover a place which is as hostile as Gaza, Danay Gold the Vice reporter, not only talked to people from Gaza, but from East-Jerusalem, and the city of Ashdod, which is in close proximity to Gaza. This geographical contiguity of Ashdod with Gaza puts it at a greater risk. Ashdod is the first receiver of rockets launched by Hamas. They also talked to the security forces operating at the borders, about Israel’s much touted iron-dome technology. One of the top security personnel recounts that this technology had intercepted at-least 162 rockets launched by Hamas, in first three days of war. Now why do people accuse Vice News to be taking sides with Palestine? For a very simple reason, the images that come out of Gaza, juxtapose with those coming out of Israel. On one hand, a man carrying an amputated hand is shown, and on the contrary, young people smoking hookah at the borders, and enjoying the operations of Iron-Dome technology, is the view from the other side.

News organizations have been noted of being averse towards Israel, just because they present drastic pictures from ground zero in Gaza. In one of his opinion pieces for Forbes, Richard Behar, a renowned investigative journalist, asserts that reports from Gaza also get hampered because of the intimidating machinery of Hamas, which continuously monitors the coverage. On the other hand, for those who refer to the NYT as pro-Israel, the least it can say is that “it is very difficult to get someone to speak against, or even about Hamas.” Since 43% of Gaza’s population is less than 14 years of age, majority of the people who die are teenagers, providing another dimension to the coverage. Ayman Mohyeldin, an NBC correspondent from Gaza, was pulled for being overtly pro-Palestine. Though he was later reinstated by the channel, his pull off triggered a movement on Twitter. Rula Jabreal, a Palestinian journalist and writer, had also fanned this controversy, in an interview with MSNBC.

Thus, the recent offensive in Gaza has subdued for the time being, but scrutiny of media coverage continues.

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