Home » What went wrong with the British media coverage of Israel’s war on Gaza? | Israel War on Gaza

What went wrong with the British media coverage of Israel’s war on Gaza? | Israel War on Gaza

by Marko Florentino
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Over the past five months, a lot has been said and written on the British media’s coverage of  Israel’s war on Gaza. Experts, journalists and activists, including myself, have argued in numerous articles and interviews that the British media exhibits certain biases in its coverage of this war, and the broader issue of Israel-Palestine.

In a new report, based on the largest statistical analysis of the media coverage of the atrocities committed in Israel on October 7, and Israel’s genocidal campaign against the Palestinian people in the first month of the war, the Muslim Council of Britain’s Centre of Media Monitoring (CfMM) laid out the empirical evidence for these observations and concerns.

Looking at some 180,000 video clips from seven United Kingdom broadcasters and three international broadcasters, as well as about 26,000 news articles from 28 British media websites, CfMM has assessed whether the UK media have reliably informed the public on the conflict and shared the positions of all concerned parties responsibly.

In line with the findings of smaller-scale studies conducted thus far, it found that Israeli narratives, voices and grievances were favoured over Palestinian voices, narratives and grievances in the coverage. “Israel’s rights” were insistently emphasised, often resulting in the exclusion and erasure of the rights of the Palestinians. Emotive language was consistently used for Israeli victims of violence, but not as much for the Palestinians. Representatives and supporters of Israel were allowed to dehumanise Palestinians on air, with no considerable pushback from news presenters and talk show hosts.

Analysing the coverage under six themes – contextualisation, language, framing, claims, the undermining of Palestinian sources and the misrepresentation of pro-Palestinian protesters – the research found that many news outlets have opted to present news from an Israeli perspective, often with significant lapses in basic fact-checking and verification.

Remarkably, the analysis unveiled that Palestinian symbols, such as the Palestinian flag, were overwhelmingly “used to illustrate stories on anti-Semitism”. It also exposed the many Islamophobic aspects of the coverage, such as the framing of pro-Palestine protests and support as inherently dangerous and akin to “a terror threat” often because of the Muslim presence among them.

The report revealed that the Islamophobic trope of “Islam being an anti-Semitic religion” was repeatedly presented – by editors, analysts and columnists alike – as the driving force behind the growing opposition to Israel and its treatment of Palestinians. This led to the misrepresentation of the 75-year conflict in Israel-Palestine as a “religious war” between Muslims and Jews, rather than a matter of oppression and occupation.

The report determined that pro-Palestinian voices and Palestinian activists have repeatedly been misrepresented by many British media outlets since the beginning of the conflict. It found that the right-wing media has been particularly hostile towards pro-Palestinian voices, “framing them as supporters of terrorism and anti-Semites as well as being hostile to British values”.

The analysis also unearthed many instances of misinformation through deliberate omission. The context of decades-long Israeli oppression of Palestinian people and occupation of Palestinian territory was absent from most of the coverage. The coverage was framed in a way that implied the conflict started on October 7. The report showed how some reportage on the ongoing war failed to even mention that the West Bank is Palestinian territory occupied by Israel, and that, according to international law, Gaza has also been effectively under Israeli occupation prior to October 7 – despite the absence of a military presence on the ground since 2005.

There were also many instances of apparent “mistakes” and misinformation being given a pass on British TV screens, as long as they reaffirmed Israeli narratives. In one instance, a defence analyst claimed on TV that “the West Bank is occupied by Palestinians”. Despite such a claim not having any basis in international law, or any current or historic reality on the ground, the presenter did not correct him or seek clarification.

Misleading use of imagery in some newspapers is another failure identified in the analysis.

For instance, distressing images depicting the flames and extensive destruction caused by Israeli air strikes on Gaza were paired with headlines referencing the atrocities committed by Hamas in Israel on October 7. In one case, a horrifying image of frightened, injured Palestinian children in Gaza was juxtaposed with a headline about “mutilated babies in Israel”.

Using misleading imagery, omitting facts, allowing guests to spread misinformation without challenge and sharing unverified information as fact are examples of irresponsible and unethical journalism. And such acts could have grave consequences.

Misinformation and disinformation breeds hate speech, which can result in harm being inflicted on innocent individuals. Misrepresentation of the current conflict as a “religious war” between Jews and Muslims, coupled with the dehumanisation of Palestinians and vilification of their supporters around the world as terrorists or “terrorist-adjacent” has exacerbated anti-Muslim, anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian sentiments.

As a result, hate directed towards British Muslims has manifested itself on the streets and screens across the UK. According to Tell Mama, the leading hate crime monitoring agency on measuring anti-Muslim hate in the UK, between October 2023 and February 2024, there were more than 2,000 anti-Muslim hate cases in the UK – a shocking 335 percent increase compared with the same period in the previous year.

Research conducted by UK NGOs More in Common and the Together Coalition since the beginning of the war in Gaza, published on March 3,  highlighted the prevalence of anti-Muslim sentiment in the country. Among those who responded to the survey, 21 percent – one in five – said they have a “very negative” or “somewhat negative” view of Muslims.

Media’s false labelling of pro-Palestinian protesters as “terror threats”, “pro-Hamas”, “extremists” and “opposing to British values” undoubtedly contributed to this unprecedented rise in anti-Muslim hate and prejudice in the country.

Indeed, anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiments many British Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims are currently faced with in their schools, universities and places of work could – at least in part – be tied to the predominantly one-sided coverage of the war on Gaza detailed in the CfMM report.

The negative labelling of pro-Palestinian protesters as “anti-British” and “anti-Western” merely due to their support for Palestinian rights and self-determination leads to the unjust tarnishing of entire communities. It feeds into existing prejudices and could flame interreligious and inter-communal tensions and even violence.

Alongside the harm caused to Muslim, Arab and Palestinian Britons, the bias expressed by the media in the coverage of this conflict also harms Palestinians in Palestine and the wellbeing of the wider region.

The report’s findings imply that numerous journalists and commentators in Britain have knowingly or unknowingly aided a propaganda campaign aimed at providing false legitimacy for Israel’s relentless assault on Gaza – an assault that, according to the International Court of Justice, could plausibly amount to genocide.

The point of the CfMM report, and this article, of course, is not to make unfair generalisations about a diverse, rich media landscape and tar all UK journalists with the same brush. Many journalists in Britain and on the ground in Israel-Palestine have produced balanced and informative journalism about the Gaza war for British media and examples of this are also included in the CfMM report.

But the report, and the many problems and shortcomings that it highlights, should be seen by those working in the British media and covering this war as a wakeup call. They should treat this extensive report and its findings as a valuable learning tool and reassess their output on Israel-Palestine according to the just and meaningful criticisms laid out within it.

The extent of the tragedy still unfolding today in Palestine, and the demonstrable impact it has had on intercommunal relations here in Britain, necessitate every journalist contributing to the coverage of this war to think carefully about what they are communicating to the public, and take extra steps to uphold the values and principles that define the profession.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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