The recent Israeli/Hamas conflict, dubbed by Israel as Operation Protective Edge, once again highlights how the accuracy or inaccuracy of news reporting in this volatile area can influence opinions. Both sides have a vested interest in pushing their own agenda, and reporters can sometimes be pawns in the political game. To be fair, accuracy and unbiased reporting are particularly challenging in wartime, but these goals are even more important during these delicate times.
Sympathy Can Turn the World’s Opinion
On one hand, Hamas has been successful in garnering sympathy for their cause. Making public pictures of bleeding children held in the arms of distraught fathers pulls the heartstrings of the world. Israel, on the other hand, insists that Hamas has put these children in harm’s way in a bid to actually increase the death toll and frame Israel as the bad guy. The Israeli government has a policy of not releasing gruesome pictures to the media often leaving the world with a biased sense of what is going on and few reporters seem to be able to sort through the hyperbole.
Inaccurate Field Reporting
Field reporters from Amnesty International have admitted that reporters in Gaza are sometimes (and perhaps often) misled by Palestinians who want to emphasize the abuses of Israel. Sometimes it is fear of retribution by Hamas that is a contributing factor to the inaccurate reporting and other times Hamas has been accused of releasing misleading information in an attempt to cover their mistakes or alleged inappropriate practices of using civilian buildings as cover.
Reporters are also subject to threats if they report anything other than the Hamas narrative. Indeed, several reporters, once they were back on their own turf, reported just that: they could not say what was really going on because Hamas had threatened them.
Neither Side Is Completely Innocent
It would be naive to say that Israel is innocent of its own media influence. Anti-Zionists claim that the Western media is biased towards Israel. The New York Times has been criticized for presenting the conflict with undue sympathy towards Israel. Israel, like any country, manages information and releases what it deems good for the country and withholds that which it feels is not.
The New York Times and perhaps other newspapers did not pursue some obviously carefully orchestrated information release-—most notably in the kidnapping of the three teenagers at the very beginning of this summer’s conflict. There was credible information that the teens were dead while Israel continued a huge search for them as if they believed they were alive. Ignoring this was a silent, but not unnoticed, nod to the Israeli government–yes, we will go along with your charade.
Reporters need to put the conflict in context. Who are the Palestinian people? Who is Hamas? Are they one and the same? What are Hamas’s goals? What are Israel’s goals?
Moreover, reporters have an obligation to be scrupulously honest and objective. They need to check their sources and not report hearsay. There is no place in today’s journalism for reporters who are biased by any side – the only place for biased reporting is in the back Op/Ed pages and not on the front page.