‘Accessories to genocide’: the media’s pro-Israel bias

27 February 2024
D Taylor

The pro-Israel bias of the media is so extreme that even the journalists are sick of it. Australia’s reporters were some of the first to rebel against the anti-Palestinian straitjacket in which their reporting is confined.

A mass meeting of ABC journalists in November revealed that management was trying to prevent them even from using the words “invasion”, “occupation” or “Palestine” to describe Israel’s actions, let alone the words “apartheid” or “genocide”.

That same month, hundreds of journalists from around the world signed an open letter accusing their employers of promoting “dehumanizing rhetoric that has served to justify ethnic cleansing of Palestinians” and of running “misinformation spread by Israeli officials”. Because of the deep and widespread pro-Israeli bias, the journalists wrote, “We risk becoming accessories to genocide”.

Of course, some journalists are perfectly happy to play this role. It’s unsurprising that right-wing media, such as Murdoch’s Australian and Daily Telegraph, have paid little to no attention to the suffering of the Palestinians. These are campaigning outlets for the right wing of the global ruling classes, and they can always be counted on to glorify oppression and slander the oppressed.

But what’s notable is the pro-genocide slant of supposedly “liberal” or even “left-wing” outlets, such as Australia’s state-owned ABC or the generally Democrat-sympathising CNN network in the US.

Revealing their frustrations to the Guardian, CNN journalists have described their network’s anti-Palestinian bias as “journalistic malpractice”, “skewed by a systemic and institutional bias within the network toward Israel” and driven from the very top.

The ABC’s conduct has been so heavy-handed that 200 staff members passed a nearly unanimous motion of no confidence in the network’s managing director. Some ABC journalists, such as federal politics reporter Nour Haydar, have resigned in disgust over the network’s complicity in the killing and displacement of Palestinians.

“Death and destruction on the scale we have seen over recent months has made me reassess my priorities”, she told the Sydney Morning Herald. Another ABC employee, Antoinette Latouf, was sacked after retweeting a simple, publicly acknowledged fact: that Israel is using starvation as a weapon of war.

What are the outcomes of these institutional biases? Senior Israeli politicians are invited onto respectable broadcasts to put the most extreme propaganda without questioning or push-back. CNN’s Anderson Cooper allowed an Israel intelligence officer to tell the world, “The non-combatant population in the Gaza Strip is really a nonexistent term”.

Similarly, ABC’s Sarah Ferguson allowed former Israeli PM Ehud Olmert to tell her audience, after an Israeli massacre at a refugee camp: “Everyone present there was part of Hamas and the fighting group of Hamas. They were killed, but they were not innocent civilians”.

This is genuine pro-genocide conspiracy theory, promoted while war crimes are ongoing, and should be seen in the same light as any historical genocide denial. Yet it is broadcast and promoted as if it’s insightful analysis, on well-respected, mainstream outlets.

Meanwhile, Palestinian and pro-Palestinian voices have been silenced, excluded or slandered. They can be sacked, like Antoinette Latouf, have their reporting and commentary limited or sidelined by restrictive editorial policies, or face direct accusations of anti-Semitism and pro-Hamas sympathies, as happened to Nasser Mashni of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network during his appearance on ABC’s Q+A.

It could be worse. Israel is the first enforcer of anti-Palestinian censorship. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, throughout all of 2023, 99 journalists were killed around the world. Of them, 77 were killed in Gaza by the Israeli military in the first two months of the invasion.

Foreign journalists generally can’t get into Gaza to report on Israel’s attack. And the Israeli military won’t let them get close enough to view the conditions in the territory.

The distortion of reality begins with the killing of witnesses and reporters within Gaza, continues through Israel’s military-controlled censorship regime and finishes with the slick Western journalistic productions that present pro-Israeli propaganda as news and analysis.

Instead of campaigning for the right of journalists to report freely in Gaza, or raising the alarm about the pro-genocide propaganda emanating from both the Israeli state and its political allies in the West, outlets like ABC and CNN are presenting the “enlightened” face of this same campaign.

Little has changed since a 2010 study by researcher Jonas Xavier Caballero found that the liberal New York Times was 25 times more likely to report an Israeli death than a Palestinian one.

Big journalism is a big business. To produce news around the clock requires enormous infrastructure. Like any other industry, that means they are run by and for the ruling class, with their own class interests always in mind. And it’s not just about making money. Some of these media outlets are loss-making: Rupert Murdoch is thought to have lost more than US$1 billion keeping his right-wing tabloid, the New York Post, afloat for decades, while in 2014 Paul Barry claimed on Media Watch that the Australian may lose A$40-50 million every year. Others are publicly owned.

The directors of these outlets are political activists overseeing the production of ideas. Australia’s most notorious right-wing media barons like Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Stokes are well known for their reactionary world views and militant dispositions: John Menadue, manager of Murdoch’s operation in the late 1960s and early 1970s, calls Murdoch a “frustrated politician”.

But liberal competitors like the ABC and Nine (at which Peter Costello, a former Liberal Party treasurer, is now the board’s chair) also have managerial staff drawn from the political elites.

For those elites, Israel’s war criminals are “people like us”: the ruling classes of an important Western ally, whose violence can always be excused and whose enemies always deserve the worst.

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