Objectivity does not exist – it cannot exist… The word is a hypocrisy which is sustained by the lie that the truth stays in the middle. No sir: sometimes truth stays on one side only.
– Oriana Fallaci
The journalist who penned an open letter to Australian media organisations calling for ethical reporting of the Gaza war were probably not aware of Italian journalist and partisan, Oriana Fallaci’s quote, when they rightly called for adherence to truth over ‘both-sidesism’ in reporting of the war.
“Both-sidesism,” the letter said, “is not balanced or impartial reporting; it acts as a constraint on truth by shrouding the enormous scale of the human suffering currently being perpetrated by Israeli forces. The immense and disproportionate human suffering of the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza should not be minimised.”
I was not one of the authors of the letter, but signed it when I found it.
As you’d expect, reactionaries around the country immediately called into question the impartiality of those who signed.
It’s long been the case that reactionaries claim to be objective or impartial. Those opposed to the Vietnam war, the Iraq weapons-of-mass-destruction war, or apartheid, or in favour of indigenous land rights, are said to be biased and accordingly not entitled to report on such matters.
As a cadet working in the finance section of the Sydney Morning Herald I was first told by SMH editor, Guy Harriott that I would not get on in journalism when, I wore a Moratorium anti-Vietnam war badge back in the seventies. When I sought a one-on-one meeting with Mr Harriot to discuss his views, delivered at a cadet training lecture, he made it clear that only those who supported the war could report “objectively” on it.
It seems nothing has changed. According to a report in Crikey, editors for Nine’s metro papers, the SMH, The Age, Brisbane Times and WAToday reacted to the Gaza war letter by saying they would remove any staff who signed the letter from reporting, or producing content, related to the war.
These editors are of course “objective” in the same way as Rupert Murdoch’s editors were in relation to the Iraq war in 2003. When the population in Western countries was roughly divided on support, or opposition to the war, all 175 Murdoch media outlets worldwide were pro-war. That’s a “free” press for you!
At roughly the same time as the journalists’ letter was circulating, another open letter calling for people to “Say no to antisemitism” was published and signed by prominent Australians.
I would happily sign this letter. It stated that the signatories were unequivocal in their resolve that racism in all its forms was deplorable and abhorrent. “To our Jewish employees, business partners, customers and all who are affected, we acknowledge the heightened feelings of threat being felt by your community right now and affirm your right to physical and psychological safety. All Australians are entitled to be treated with respect, free from offensive, hostile and intimidating behaviour. We stand against antisemitism, Islamophobia and any form of racism in our workplaces, hiring practices and business dealings.”
Those who signed this letter should be every bit as free to report on the Gaza war as those who signed the journalists’ letter. Signing either, or both, does not mean that the signatory cannot observe and report on the facts of the war.
The journalists’ letter called for an end to attacks on journalists. It also called for an end to violence against civilians in Gaza, the West Bank, Israel and Lebanon. Surely we can all agree on that? Nor should anyone object to the call to have the perpetrators of crimes against journalists and civilians held to account.
It is also perfectly reasonable to ask Australian newsroom leaders to be as clear-eyed in their coverage of atrocities committed by Israel, as they are of those committed by Hamas.
Journalists should be aware of their biases and the limits of their coverage. Those who claim to be objective, or suggest that they present the full picture, are either kidding themselves, or lying.
In the 2003 Shock and Awe attack on Baghdad we saw factual live footage of cruise missiles raining down on the city. But this was less than half the picture. What we did not see was footage of those killed and maimed by the light-show.
The media in Australia rightly ran footage of the horror of the Hamas October 7 killings and kidnapping of hostages.
Also deserving full coverage is the Israeli killings of civilians, the bombing of schools and hospitals, the policy of driving people from their homes and the denial of food and water to the people of Gaza.
The condemnation of these atrocities from independent organisations is also news.
Not only have journalists witnessed the slaughter, Amnesty International has documented unlawful indiscriminate Israeli attacks, causing mass civilian casualties.
“Our research points to damning evidence of war crimes in Israel’s bombing campaign that must be urgently investigated,” Amnesty said in a statement on October 20.
Contrary to the popular saying, there are not “two sides to every story.”
There are many, many sides. The war in Gaza did not begin on 7 October. The history is a key part of the current story. The treatment of Palestinians living in Israel, and in the occupied territories, is another part. Before October 7, did the Australian public know of the Palestinian women and children held, without charge or trial, in Israeli military detention? Why was that not a well-reported story?
Three million Palestinians live in the occupied West Bank, ruled by military law and prosecuted in military courts. By contrast, nearly half a million Israeli settlers have moved into the West Bank but are governed under civil and criminal law and tried in Israeli civil courts. Such discrimination is part of the story.
Amnesty called upon the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to urgently investigate the crimes of all parties. The sluggish response from the ICC is another matter that deserves media attention.
The policy of the Israeli government is also part of the story. What is the Netanyahu Government’s real objective in prosecuting the war by indiscriminate bombing of civilians, driving the people of Gaza from their homes and denying them food, water and shelter?
“Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” Hitler is said to have remarked when preparing for the invasion of Poland in 1939
Today, with the endorsement of the West Bank settlements there is no hint that Netanyahu, or anyone in his government has any intention of finding a two-state solution to the situation in Israel/Palestine.
His policy is to continue the process of driving Palestinians from their ancestral homes. And “Who will remember the Palestinians?” is his final solution.
Objectively report that!