Why humanised media coverage of Gaza is so important

Max Slaughter Communications and Campaigns Manager at Medical Aid for Palestinians 26th March 2024

Israeli military airstrikes destroy the 14-storey Watan Tower, which included a number of press and commercial offices, in the Al-Rimal area in central Gaza City. (Credit: Mohammed Zaanoun).

Since the attacks of October 7 last year, the violence in Gaza has dominated the headlines. For IBT member Medical Aid for Palestinians, that’s meant an unprecedented amount of media attention. But, as Communications and Campaigns Manager Max Slaughter tells us, media reporting that portrays Palestinians as less than human makes their killing more acceptable.

How do you feel about the way in which the UK media has covered events in Israel/Gaza?

Overall, UK media reporting has been widespread but largely pretty poor. Much of the media has presented the situation as starting from 7 October 2023, disregarding the hugely important context and root causes that led to these events – including the displacement, dispossession and discrimination against Palestinians for more than half a century, the military occupation of the West Bank, and the 17-year illegal closure and blockade on Gaza.

Many of the biggest outlets in the UK have been producing daily live blogs and have sent their most senior international correspondents to report from southern Israel and Jerusalem. Interestingly, these steps were not taken before 7 October, in a year which was the deadliest for Palestinians in the West Bank since records began, and where attacks on healthcare have skyrocketed. 

Pervasive terminology like the ‘Hamas-run’ health ministry dehumanises the patients lying injured in hospitals and treats them as less worthy victims. This also casts doubt on the data coming out of the Palestinian Ministry of Health – despite no evidence on the contrary – and implies that these healthcare facilities are not run by healthcare professionals. Media reporting that portrays Palestinians as less than human makes their killing more acceptable.

As with every war or humanitarian crisis, media fatigue has become more of an issue in 2024. There is significantly less coverage in UK media outlets of the situation in Gaza, live blogs are no longer being produced on many of the mainstream outlets, and international correspondents are moving elsewhere. 

How balanced has media coverage been?

The fact that Israel has prevented journalists from entering Gaza and, at times, created a total communications blackout, getting information out of Gaza has been extremely challenging – even for us at MAP. This makes it difficult to reflect the realities and the sense of uncertainty leads some media reporting to doubt the credibility of information coming out of Gaza. It also creates more of a reliance on Israeli sources and information. 

In the majority of the UK’s broadcast coverage, even when the focus of the interview is meant be to the humanitarian situation, Palestinians interviewed are routinely asked to condemn Hamas. Whereas Israeli vox pops are rarely, if ever, asked to condemn the actions of their government and/or military.

Are there specific examples of media coverage that you’d like to highlight?

First and foremost, the excellent and incredibly courageous Palestinian journalists on the ground in Gaza are shining a light on the crisis and are constantly reporting the realities live, despite when they have lost loved ones. Many will have followed the remarkable work of Motaz Azaiza, Bisan Owda, Noor Harazeen and Wael al-Dahdouh. I think UK media outlets can learn from the humanity demonstrated in their reporting. 

Al Jazeera English and Al Jazeera Arabic have been leading the way in their coverage on the ground – they are often the first places I would go for up-to-date news from Gaza. Some of the BBC’s early coverage was strong, with reporting from Tom Bateman and their correspondent in Gaza Rushdi Abualouf.

There have been examples of poor coverage. One particular report erroneously claimed that a hospital was empty of patients but, at the time, MAP spoke to medics at the hospital who provided photos and testimony confirming that it remained filled with patients and staff, and was still providing services despite severe shortages of medicines, equipment and fuel. This irresponsible reporting can endanger the lives of civilians and undermine the protection of healthcare. 

5 March 2024—Rafah, Gaza. Emergency medical team staff work in the surgical theatre at the European Hospital in Gaza. ©The International Rescue Committee Photo by Belal Khaled for the IRC

Are there aspects of the story that have been neglected?

The context that led up to this crisis has largely been neglected from UK media coverage. This includes the fact that even before Israel implemented a total siege on Gaza following 7 October, Gaza was under a crippling blockade for 16 years. The consequences this 16-year blockade has had on the health system have been catastrophic and precipitated the dismantling of the health system which has taken place in the last four months. 

Another neglected aspect is the rising Israeli military and settler violence in the occupied West Bank, as well as increased settlement expansion. Towns and cities are being raided almost daily, particularly in the north in areas such as Jenin, Nablus and Tulkarem. The intensification of air strikes and drone attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank have also been a new development. It is really important for the media to report on the West Bank as events there are so closely connected to Gaza, despite the systematic fragmentation that Palestinians experience across the whole of the occupied Palestinian territory. 

How Palestinians will recover both physically and psychologically, and what Gaza will look like when this war ends has also been a neglected element of the story. Palestinians in Gaza have lost everything, including their dignity, and it is vital that a dignified process of rebuilding – including the health system – is prioritised when there is a ceasefire. Alongside this, there must be accountability for the indiscriminate attacks on civilians and infrastructure, including healthcare personnel and facilities. The media can play an important role in promoting both of these aspects. 

You’ve been interviewed during the crisis – have you been given a fair hearing?

Overall, MAP’s spokespeople have been given a fair hearing. We have tried to ensure that we do our due diligence before accepting an interview request, both on the journalist/presenter and the interview topic, as well as ensuring all of our spokespeople are briefed before giving an interview. There have been times when our spokespeople have been thrown off with more political questions, but, as a health and humanitarian organisation, we cannot answer these questions. 

Although we have given an unprecedented number of media interviews, there have been occasions where these are limited to very short (sometimes 60-second) soundbite contributions, which has not allowed our spokespeople to get the depth and context of their messages across.

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