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Hilal English

Better Late than Never...

April 2024

The Western media's biased coverage of conflicts, such as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, exposes double standards and perpetuates misinformation, eroding its perceived objectivity. This selective reporting underscores the media's agenda-driven nature and its influence on public opinion, raising concerns about its role in shaping global understanding of geopolitical issues.

Once upon a time, many simple-minded mortals living in the developing world, including Pakistan, saw Western media as the yardstick of objectivity, fairness, and balance. People often missed or even ignored all the subtle angling and bias in the content of Western media as the perception of their journalism being overwhelmingly factual, unbiased, and impartial remained strong. It is not the case anymore.
The ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict, just as many other past conflicts, particularly in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, has again shattered this myth. Yes, when it comes to echoing the strategic objectives and interests of the Western world, their mainstream media brazenly toe the official line–no question asked. Israel is the main strategic partner of the "Liberal West" in the Middle East. Period. And the "independent" and "impartial" Western media are, by and large, going all out to drum up support and consent for the war.
The contradiction in the coverage of two current wars serves as an eye-opener.
If the invader is Russia, the Western media denounce Moscow for its alleged "atrocities" and highlight the plight of civilians caught in the conflict in an attempt to generate sympathy for victims. But when Israel's war machine is bombing and levelling Gaza, all the killings and plight of the civilians take a backseat. According to Al Jazeera, from October 7 to April 1, 2024, at least 32,782 Palestinians have been killed and more than 75,298 injured in Israeli attacks on Gaza. And this figure is mounting with the passage of every single day. On the Israeli side, the revised and slashed death toll of its security personnel and civilians from Hamas' October 7 attack stands at 1,139, with dozens taken captive. Earlier, it was reported to be around 1,400 by Israel.
And it is not just Palestine where the Western media missed the "human angle" of the story. It did the same in the wars in Iraq, Syria, and Libya, as well as Afghanistan in the recent past. 
Missing Historical Context
An overwhelming number of Western media outlets portray the Palestinian resistance group Hamas as an aggressor and a terrorist organization. However, in doing so, they conveniently ignore the historical context of this protracted conflict. 
The Western media discuss and report the Hamas October 7 assault without providing any historical background, the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the organized violence unleashed against Palestinians since 1948. The Western media also never mention that the October 7 events did not occur in a vacuum but are rooted in the past as it turns a blind eye towards the decades of victimization, oppression, discrimination, and humiliation of the Palestinians, who have been brutally expelled from their lands. 
The Western media also fail to report the appalling living conditions in Gaza even before the start of this latest round of war. A United Nations (UN) report had declared Gaza as “unlivable” and a breeding ground for violent resistance much before the October 7 events. Ignoring the historical context of the Palestinian issue results in the biased portrayal of the events.

According to Al Jazeera, from October 7 to APRIL 1, 2024, at least 32,782 Palestinians have been killed and more than 75,298 injured in Israeli attacks on Gaza.

Misinformation and Disinformation  
The Western media also often serve as the vehicle for fanning misinformation and disinformation campaigns of the Israeli state. They buy the Israeli narrative, hook, line, and sinker without examining the indiscriminate killing of civilians in Gaza and other occupied Palestinian lands. For example, the Western media extensively reported the allegation that Hamas beheaded 40 Israeli babies. This was an unverified report later withdrawn by the CNN reporter, who filed it from Netanyahu’s office. Reporting such unverified claims is against basic journalism ethics. This fake story was aimed at mobilizing support in the Western countries for Israel’s offensive. On October 12, even the U.S. President Joe Biden implied that he saw pictures of dismembered babies. The White House, however, walked back Biden’s comments.1
Then, there were allegations that Hamas fighters raped hundreds of Israeli women. This fake story was also an attempt to create public support for Israel’s military response.
Biased Language
The Western media’s bias is also reflected in the language while reporting on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. For the leading British newspaper, The Guardian, Hamas’ attack on Israel was a “murderous rampage”, while a leading British weekly, The Economist called it a “bloodthirsty assault.”2 However, the same media never describe far bigger and graver scale Israeli attacks the same way, even after the killing of thousands of Palestinians. 
One can also see the bias in the language when Israeli hostages are called women and children, while the Palestinian prisoners are "women and people aged 18 and younger." This type of language is aimed at dehumanizing Palestinians and humanizing Israeli victims.
Language prejudice is also underlined when active voice is used for Israeli victims (“attack kill Israelis”), but passive voice for Palestinian victims (“Palestinians have died” or “lives found ended”). Both BBC3 and CNN4 mentioned that Israelis "were killed" while Palestinians "have died".

The October 7 events did not occur in a vacuum but are rooted in the past as it turns a blind eye towards the decades of victimization, oppression, discrimination, and humiliation of the Palestinians, who have been brutally expelled from their lands. 

The difference between the coverage of resistance against Russia’s war in Ukraine and Israel’s aggression in Palestine is also telling. When Ukrainian civilians take up weapons, the Western media see it as heroic, an act of defense and the right to protect freedom, but when Palestinians raise weapons and fight the aggressor, it is branded as terrorism. The same is true with the Kashmiri freedom fighters fighting the Indian occupation.  
The Western media never condemn the oppressors in occupied Palestine and Kashmir, but in the Ukrainian war, Russia is slammed day and night.  
Double Standards
The Western media's double standards also stand exposed while covering simultaneous wars in Ukraine and Palestine. As widely reported across the globe, a BBC reporter says that it is very emotional “to see European people with blue eyes and blond hair… being killed every day.”
A CBS correspondent calls Ukraine civilized and not "a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilized, relatively European–I have to choose those words carefully, too–city, one where you wouldn't expect that or hope that it's going to happen."
French journalist Phillipe Corbé said about Ukraine, "We're not talking here about Syrians fleeing the bombing of the Syrian regime backed by Putin. We're talking about Europeans leaving in cars that look like ours to save their lives."
One can keep on quoting one such "nugget" after another. This is an endless list, highlighting the fact that the Ukrainian and Palestinian refugees and victims are not equal in the eyes of the Western media.
Professional Mistakes
An Al Jazeera report rightly points out that “Publishing unsubstantiated claims, telling only one side of the story, and painting Palestinians as nothing more than objects in Hamas’ hands are all unprofessional mistakes Western media makes while covering the conflict between Israel and Hamas.” While quoting several experts and journalists, Al Jazeera reported that the systemic “bias in favor of Israel” is “irreparably damaging” the credibility of news agencies considered “mainstream” in the eyes of Arabs and others.

Language prejudice is also underlined when active voice is used for Israeli victims (“attack kill Israelis”), but passive voice for Palestinian victims (“Palestinians have died” or “lives found ended”). Both BBC and CNN  mentioned that Israelis "were killed" while Palestinians "have died".

One-sided Coverage
The Western media correspondents extensively report on the pain and misery of Israeli families, but foreign journalists are barred from entering Gaza by Israel. This means an important story aspect remains unreported as the Western media only cover the Israeli narrative. Yes, one never hears the word "victims" for Palestinians as one hears it about the Israeli side.
The Western media just toe the Israeli line of its “right to defend” itself and Hamas using civilians in Gaza as “human shields”, ignoring the killings, human plight and misery in Gaza, which Amnesty International has called “war crimes”. The Western media also never raises the issue of the stifling siege of Gaza by Israel since 2007 or discusses the building and expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank.
When Western news channels invite Palestinians to participate in current affairs shows, they are frequently asked whether they "condemn Hamas." However, Israeli guests are hardly asked to condemn their government for the siege and bombing of Gaza or their discriminatory policies in the occupied land.
These contrasts and lop-sided coverage show that the Western media see Muslims and Arabs as akin to sub-humans.
Terminated for Professionalism
Those journalists wanting to report the Palestinian-Israeli conflict independently, objectively and fairly while working at Western media organizations or challenge their pro-Israeli bias fear losing jobs. Services of several journalists have been terminated for mere comments that show even a little sympathy with Palestinian victims.
According to media reports, Michael Eisen, a Jewish journalist working for the open-source scientific journal eLife, was fired by his organization for sharing a headline on X (formerly Twitter) from the U.S. satirical news website, The Onion. The headline, published on October 13, read, "Dying Gazans criticized for not using last words to condemn Hamas.”
Eight BBC journalists wrote an open letter to Al Jazeera, accusing their broadcaster of failing to accurately report on Israel-Palestine, "investing greater effort in humanizing Israeli victims compared with Palestinians, and omitting key historical context in coverage."5
Another open letter by Australian journalists called on Australian newsrooms to undertake steps to improve coverage, including “applying as much professional scepticism when… relying on uncorroborated Israeli government and military sources to shape coverage as is applied to Hamas.”6
Mistrust of Palestinian Sources
The Western media always refer to institutions in Gaza, including hospitals, fire brigade and the Health Ministry, as "Hamas-run" or "Hamas-led," subtly highlighting their distrust of the information given by the Palestinians. Still, the Israeli government and its institutions are never referred to as “Netanyahu-run” or "Likud-led."  
The Palestinian perspective of the conflict hardly finds a place in the Western media, but Israeli civil and military officials get primetime coverage. Even if any Palestinian gets invited, he or she faces allegations in the form of questions or demands to condemn Hamas and its actions. They are treated as the accused, responsible for all the bloodshed, violence and war, while Israelis are asked to comment, share their experience or give analysis on the conflict.  

As widely reported across the globe, a BBC reporter says that it is very emotional “to see European people with blue eyes and blond hair… being killed every day.”

The victims of violence on the Palestinian and Israeli sides are also treated differently. Israeli victims are identified, given faces, and their stories told, but the Palestinian victims are just numbers.
The Palestinian journalists working for foreign and local media organizations are paying the price of their profession through their tears, blood, and lives. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), as of March 21, at least 95 Palestinian journalists and media workers have been killed in Gaza since the war started on October 7. But what they file or their own stories hardly find any place in the international media.

A CBS correspondent calls Ukraine civilized and not "a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilized, relatively European–I have to choose those words carefully, too–city, one where you wouldn't expect that or hope that it's going to happen."

No More Objective, Fair
In a nutshell, the Western media are no longer objective, fair and impartial. Still, they are agenda-driven and work as an active player in this big-stakes game in which nationalism and state interests reign supreme. Their task is to treat information, misinformation, and disinformation as weapons of war. The written and spoken words are sent in the global battlefield of 21st Century propaganda warfare to influence, manipulate, and change the thinking of viewers and readers. This is the dark reality of today's international media game.   

The writer is an eminent journalist who regularly contributes for print and electronic media.
E-mail: [email protected], Twitter: @AmirZia1 

1.    Berlinger, Matthew Chance, Richard Allen Greene, Joshua. 2023. “Israeli Official Says Government Cannot Confirm Babies Were Beheaded in Hamas Attack.” CNN. October 12, 2023. https://edition.cnn.com/2023/10/12/middleeast/israel-hamas-beheading-claims-intl/index.html.
2.    “The Lessons from Hamas’s Assault on Israel.” n.d. The Economist. https://www.economist.com/leaders/2023/10/08/the-lessons-from-hamass-assault-on-israel. 
3.    BBC News. 2023. “Blinken Says US Will ‘Always Be There’ for Israel,” October 12, 2023, sec. Middle East. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-67087583. 
4.    Newman, Rachel Wilson, Rosa deAcostaNoya, Alex Leeds Matthews, Alexandra. 2023. “One Month’s Death Toll in the Israel-Hamas War, in Charts.” CNN. November 7, 2023. https://edition.cnn.com/2023/11/07/middleeast/palestinian-israeli-deaths-gaza-dg/index.html. 
5.    Safdar, Anealla. 2023. “As Israel Pounds Gaza, BBC Journalists Accuse Broadcaster of Bias.” Al Jazeera. November 23, 2023. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/11/23/as-israel-pounds-gaza-bbc-journalists-accuse-broadcaster-of-bias. 
6.    Tasmanian Times. (2023, November). “Letter from Journalists to Australian Media Outlets.” Tasmanian Times. https://tasmaniantimes.com/2023/11/letter-from-journalists-to-australian-media-outlets/


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