Humanising war victims: The media’s shameful coverage of the Gaza conflict

Feb 22, 2024
Silence is Complicity Graffiti on the concrete wall built by Israel

“The big Australian newspapers we looked at have failed to cover the Gaza conflict fairly. … We think their coverage has been shameful” – Paul Barry, ABC Media Watch.

Three weeks ago, Al Jazeera told us about a Palestinian family fleeing the fighting in Gaza City. And broadcast this recording of 15-year-old Layan Hamadeh calling from their car and pleading for help.

Transcript

But now to a tragic story you may well have missed from the bloody war in Gaza which has forced almost two million Palestinians to flee their homes and killed almost 29,000 people there, including more than 12,000 children.

Three weeks ago, Al Jazeera told us about a Palestinian family fleeing the fighting in Gaza City.

And broadcast this recording of 15-year-old Layan Hamadeh calling from their car and pleading for help:

LAYAN HAMADEH: Hello.

OPERATOR: Hello, dear.

LAYAN HAMADEH: They [Israelis] are shooting at us.

OPERATOR: Hello?

LAYAN HAMADEH: They are shooting at us. The tank is next to me.

NARRATOR: This was a phone call between the Red Crescent and a 15-year-old girl.

OPERATOR: Are you hiding?

LAYAN HAMADEH: Yes, in the car. We’re next to the tank.

OPERATOR: Are you inside the car?

[GUNFIRE, SCREAMING]

– Al Jazeera, 10 February, 2024

After that burst of gunfire there was silence. Layan was shot dead, according to the Red Crescent, along with five other members of her family.

But Layan’s six-year-old cousin Hind Rajab was still alive in the car and stayed on the phone for hours, begging to be rescued:

HIND RAJAB: Come, take me.

OPERATOR: Come, take you?

HIND RAJAB: Please, I’m scared, come quick.

– Al Jazeera, 10 February, 2024

When that call was made public, the little girl was still missing, #WhereisHind was trending on social media, and the Palestine Red Crescent was still trying to find her.

Then last weekend, after Israeli tanks withdrew from the area, the bombed-out red and white ambulance sent to rescue her was discovered with the charred bodies of two paramedics inside.

Metres away was the family car, badly damaged and riddled with bullet holes. Little Hind was one of seven decomposing bodies found inside.

And what made these deaths even more shocking was the Red Crescent’s claim that Israeli armed forces had agreed to give the ambulance safe passage.

This awful story — which human rights campaigner Justice for All has branded a war crime — was picked up all over the world.

Including by the BBC and Channel 4 in the UK:

It was her own family who found her body today, along with those of her aunt and uncle and three cousins. Nearby this was all that was left of the ambulance that came to rescue her. Destroyed not just by bullets but by shelling too.

– Channel 4, 11 February, 2024

And it also ran big on the TV networks in America, like CNN, NBC and Fox News:

TREY YINGST: The Israeli military says they are aware of the incident and are investigating what exactly took place.

– Fox News,12 February, 2024

The killings made it onto Australian TV news as well, on Ten, SBS and the ABC.

And online into the Daily Mail, Yahoo! News, Mamamia, and The Guardian’s First Dog on the Moon.

But remarkably, the Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun and Courier-Mail could find no room for it in their print editions. Nor could The Age or Sydney Morning Herald.

And there was nothing about Hind’s death in our national broadsheet The Australian.

Although the websites of the News Corp papers did host videos and agency copy.

So was this just an oversight? We doubt it.

A week earlier The Australian had asked on its front page:

‘How is the world still silent?’

– The Australian, 2 February, 2024

But it wasn’t weeping for Hind Rajab, it was mourning two missing Israeli children taken hostage by Hamas.

And while their fate is awful too, this focus on Israeli victims is part of a pattern.

Looking back at The Australian’s coverage of the conflict since the Hamas terror attacks of 7 October killed nearly 1,200 people, there are numerous heart-wrenching stories of the victims, showing their photos, giving us their names and ages, telling us who they were and how they were killed or captured, and allowing us to feel the horror and dreadful pain of the families left behind.

But guess what? Almost all these victims are Israeli, almost none are Palestinian, with The Australian running around 40 stories in the paper humanising Israeli victims and only three doing the same for Palestinian victims, even though 20 times as many Palestinians have been killed in the conflict. And even though almost two million are homeless and hungry.

The Daily Telegraph has been nowhere near as bad as The Australian, but has still run around five times as many stories focussing on the plight of Israeli victims as on Palestinians.

And Nine’s print editions have also fallen short of equal treatment, with the SMH running roughly three times as many stories personalising and humanising Israeli victims as Palestinians.

But studies of western media coverage of the war have found a similar imbalance.

America’s nonprofit news organisation The Intercept combed through more than 1000 US articles from the first six weeks of the conflict and found:

THE NEW YORK Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times’s coverage of Israel’s war on Gaza showed a consistent bias against Palestinians …

– The Intercept, 9 January, 2024

With the papers accused of paying:

… little attention to the unprecedented impact of Israel’s siege and bombing campaign on both children and journalists in the Gaza Strip.

– The Intercept, 9 January, 2024

And of focussing on:

… Israeli deaths in the conflict …

– The Intercept, 9 January, 2024

So why is that? Is it because western journalists can’t get into Gaza to find the families?

Well, that may be part of the reason. But on social media there is no shortage of powerful human stories of Palestinian suffering with photos, names and faces, from sources like UNICEF, Medecins Sans Frontieres and Al Jazeera:

My cousin Ahmed was killed. Shrapnel in the head. We ran out of the house.

– TikTok, @ajplus, 4 December, 2023

And there are hundreds of graphic personal posts that could easily be verified. And a warning, this is one of them:

FATHER: Oh God, the pain…

– Instagram, @fadel.moh1, 18 February, 2024

But a lack of stories putting faces and names to Palestinian suffering is just the start.

The Intercept’s study also found the language in the New York Times, LA Times and Washington Post was biased towards Israel:

The term “slaughter” was used by editors and reporters to describe the killing of Israelis versus Palestinians 60 to 1, and “massacre” was used to describe the killing of Israelis versus Palestinians 125 to 2. “Horrific” was used to describe the killing of Israelis versus Palestinians 36 to 4.

– The Intercept, 9 January, 2024

And that was backed up in a study by the UK’s Open Democracy, dismissing charges of BBC bias against Israel, which claimed:

The Palestinian perspective is effectively absent from the coverage …

– Open Democracy, 22 December, 2023

And here in Australia, a preliminary analysis for the Islamophobia Register by Dr Susan Carland found Instagram posts from The Australian and 9News all humanised Israeli victims but not Palestinians, with the ABC the only one to give equal coverage to both sides.

We should caution that the last two studies covered the first month of the war, when the horror of the Hamas terror attacks was still dominating the headlines.

So, what do we conclude from all this? Well, simple, really.

The big Australian newspapers we looked at have failed to cover the Gaza conflict fairly, in terms of giving equal weight to the victims on each side, with the Nine papers not too bad, but The Australian failing in spectacular fashion.

Nine rejects our criticism, with the SMH editor Bevan Shields defending the papers’ coverage as:

… thorough, fair and balanced. We have documented the ongoing tragedy and destruction experienced by innocent civilians on both sides of the war.

Counting stories published in print only is a simplistic and flawed approach that doesn’t reflect the full extent of the Herald’s in-depth coverage

– Email, Bevan Shields, Editor, Sydney Morning Herald, 18 February, 2024

We also approached News Corp for comment, along with several questions for the editor of The Australian, but we received no response.

We think their coverage has been shameful.

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