Monday, July 21, 2014

War journalism fuels hatred, violence in Gaza, Israel

As the inconceivable war in Gaza continues to unfold, so, too does the predictable propaganda war playing out in the media.

This propaganda takes several forms. In an insightful piece in the New York Times, writer Jodi Rudoren talks about a “clash of narratives” about the war, and about the use of euphemisms. On the Israeli side, these include substituting “forced obstruction” for “assassination” and “uninvolved” for “civilians.” On the Palestinian side, media are advised by officials to always add the term “innocent citizen” when discussing casualties. 

PeaceVoice Editor Erin Niemela, in an article analyzing coverage of Gaza, cites similar examples. Al Jazeera online currently (July 21) posts a banner headline that says, “Gaza Under Siege: Naming the Dead.” This regularly updated webpage lists the names and ages of the Palestinian victims in Gaza. The war and propaganda journalism viewpoint is also present on the Israeli side. Niemela cites a July 18th article from The Times of Israel. The title is: “20 Hamas fighters killed, 13 captured in first hours of ground offensive.” The lead justifies the campaign: “IDF says soldiers in Gaza destroy 21 rocket launchers, find several tunnel openings; Eitan Barak, 21, from Herzliya, is first IDF fatality; 80 rockets fired at Israel.” 

Not only is this traditional war journalism evident on websites and in articles, but it can also be seen in visual reporting (photos and video) of the conflict. Specifically, I examined a series of 10 photos in two online publications—one Israeli, the other Palestinian. These photo albums were analyzed using a rubric my students at Park University and I have developed during the last three years. This rubric, which is still a work in progress, attempts to put a point value on images that are inflammatory, misleading, or represent propaganda.

My mini-study showed that traditional war journalism was evident in the photos posted on both Hareetz (Israel) and the PalestineTelegraph on July 20. In Hareetz, the 10 photos included one mug shot of two Israeli victims, two shots of injured Palestinians, two photos of tanks, two shots of rocket shell casings that fell into Israel, one destroyed building, one artillery firing shot, and one picture at night of artillery firing. Hareetz’s photos seemed pro-military, showing the efficacy of the IDF campaign, but not showing too much suffering. To their credit, at least there were two shots of injured Palestinians. However, the victims portrayed looked only moderately injured, at worst, thus the photos weren’t especially bloody or gruesome. 

Not surprisingly, the Palestine Telegraph photos told a different story. Of the 10 photos posted or linked from their website, there were four shots of kids in the rubble of blasted buildings. There were three pictures of injured or dead children, one shot of rubble, one of a destroyed building, and one of an Israeli rocket launch. Noteworthy is the fact that seven of the 10 pictures featured children, leaving one wondering if there is a directive of some kind at the Palestine Telegraph mandating photos of young victims. Also noteworthy was one truly awful, heartbreaking photo of a bloody toddler (1 or 2 years old) who was either dying or deceased.

What we are left with, then, are two different narratives—one sanitized and pro-military, and one sensationalized. As peace journalists, we ask ourselves the question, what is the effect of these visual narratives? In Palestine and the Arab world, these sensational images do nothing but stoke hatred against Israel, and empower hard liners who see only violence as the only response. In Israel, these sanitized, pro-military images support the government’s version of events, and reinforce the notion that the military action is succeeding with minimal suffering on the Palestinian side.

Peace journalism—indeed, good journalism—mandates coverage that doesn’t pour gasoline on an already blazing fire, and coverage that values peaceful alternatives while giving peacemakers a voice. Failure to practice peace journalism in this instance is further dividing the parties, inciting hatred, and helping to make peace virtually impossible.

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