Guidelines for improved coverage on Gaza-Israel war

Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) expresses deep concern over the inconsistent media coverage of the Gaza-Israel war since October 7, 2023. CJPME has been closely following the reporting in Canada media over the past week, and is aware of many instances in which news coverage has failed to be consistent in upholding professional journalistic standards.  CJPME provides the following critiques of the media response of the past week, and recommendations for future coverage:

Guidelines to journalists

1. Show sensitivity when interviewing Palestinians impacted directly by the conflict.  CJPME has been contacted by many members of the media seeking individuals impacted by  the war. CJPME has worked hard to connect the media with members of the Palestinian community, both in Canada and in Palestine. CJPME understands the urgency and importance of such requests, but suggests greater sensitivity on the part of the media:

  • Be cognizant of the anxiety in the community. Media should understand that they are approaching people who are already anxious about the situation. First, given the rise in anti-Palestinian racism expressed by Canada’s political class, many Palestinians have told us they are afraid to be quoted, or appear in a broadcast, for fear of being demonized or misquoted and therefore face repercussions in their personal or professional life. Second, the media need to be very sensitive to the emotional state of Palestinian-Canadians. Some may have recently experienced the death of a family member, or may simply be too anxious to “jump to respond” when the media requests. Show appropriate sensitivity.
  • Don’t force average Palestinian-Canadians to answer for Hamas. When Israel commits atrocities in Gaza, average Jewish-Canadians are not asked to condemn or answer for Israel’s actions. This is a false litmus test to supposedly decide whether one cares for humanity or whether one supports terrorism. Most Palestinians support the principle of resistance against military occupation but reject violence against civilians. They shouldn’t be forced to explain or defend Hamas in an interview, especially as a precondition for talking about the violence facing their own community. 
  • Don’t distort or sensationalize the commentary of Palestinian-Canadians. Many Palestinians feel manipulated when they carefully share their perspective, yet it is grossly distorted through editing. Many feel betrayed when they explain the underlying context and grievances of the Palestinian people, but this is edited out of the interview at publishing. CJPME knows of several Palestinian-Canadians who are so fed up with having their commentary “scrubbed” that they have chosen to boycott media interviews. Other times, a snippet of their commentary is taken out of context to make them look either, on the one hand, excessively acquiescent or passive, or on the other hand, extreme or unreasonable.

2. Respect the guidance provided by Middle East journalists associations.  On October 7, the Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association (AMEJA) updated existing guidelines on coverage in Palestine-Israel. Among their most pertinent recommendations are to: 1) incorporate the broader context of Palestinian-Israeli relations, 2) recognize the power imbalance, and avoid a “both sides” framing, 3) double-check ‘official’ sources, and 4) be precise in the reporting of casualties.  Another important resource it the International Press Institute’s “Use with Care: A Reporter’s Glossary of Loaded Language in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.”  To these points:

  • CJPME has observed that Canadian media almost universally fail to mention the underlying realities of Israel’s belligerent military occupation of the Palestinian territories, the nearly 17-year-old blockade of Gaza by Israel and Egypt, and the fact that numerous human rights organizations have accused Israel of practicing apartheid against Palestinians. For example, a CBC story on October 7 failed to contextualize Israel’s occupation even after both Hamas and Saudi Arabian officials are quoted in the article as citing Israel’s occupation as the core underlying issue.
  • CJPME has noticed that Canadian media outlets are often explicit about Israeli casualties, but ambiguous when it comes to Palestinian and other casualties. For example, a CTV News article on October 13 mentioned that Hamas had “killed over 1,300 Israelis in a brutal rampage,” later saying, “[t]he war has claimed at least 2,800 lives on both sides,” and never explicitly mentioning the Palestinians killed by Israel. A very lengthy Oct. 14 article in the Globe and Mail about a killed journalist never once mentions that it was the Israeli army which carried out the killing. Canadian media have been quite explicit about Israeli child casualties, but are consistently remiss in reporting Palestinian child fatalities. Defence for Children International – Palestine (DCIP) is an excellent source of vetted information on Palestinian child casualties.
  • CJPME has also noticed that Canadian media tend to repeat Israeli government assertions as fact, without independent verification. One key example is the “beheaded babies” story, which is still being cited by Canadian outlets despite the lack of any verification. The facts of Hamas’ horrible and unjustified violence against Israeli civilians are egregious enough on their own without disinformation distorting the details. . In another example, over a period of 28 hours in July, CJPME documented nine instances where CBC outlets parroted Israeli military language describing Palestinian militants in the West Bank as ‘terrorists,’ even though the Palestinians in question were nowhere near Israeli civilians and were not involved in acts of terror.

3. Broadcasters should respect the Canadian Association of Broadcaster’s Equitable Portrayal Guide, which provides very timely guidance for outlets reporting on the Gaza-Israel war.  Among other concepts, the guide emphasizes precepts around ‘equitable portrayal,’ ‘human rights,’ and ‘negative portrayal.’ Many broadcasters have allowed pro-Israel figures to rant on air about the supposedly inherent evil of Palestinians, which is in violation of the guide’s ‘human rights’ precept, which notes: “broadcasters shall ensure that their programming contains no abusive or unduly discriminatory material or comment which is based on matters of race, national or ethnic origin.”

4. Broadcasters should contextualize their stories with perspectives from human rights experts. International law is central to the understanding of many aspects of the Gaza-Israel violence. The International Committee of the Red Cross is the internationally recognized authority on these matters, while various UN bodies (ICC, ICJ, UN Commission of Inquiry, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, etc) also speak with authority on these matters. The legal realities in these situations should be clearly and consistently incorporated into media coverage.  Some of the points that need to be included in coverage are:

5. Commentary and opinion must be fact-checked, and screened for racism and incitement to violence. While a great deal of leeway is provided for opinion pieces and commentary, they must nevertheless not contain literal falsehoods nor incite violence. While it may be onerous to verify, media are required to ensure that the factual assertions in opinion pieces are true.  If a guest on a broadcast says something which is explicitly racist or incites violence, the media outlet is responsible. In the context of Israel’s indiscriminate bombing and siege of the civilian population in Gaza, perspectives which justify a military response without restraint amount to inciting Israel’s violence against a captive civilian population. A summary of Canadian media commentary that has possibly “crossed the line” can be found on The Maple. Among the most problematic are:

  • Terry Glavin, columnist for the Ottawa Citizen and National Post who wrote, “[I]t’s exceedingly difficult to see what options are available to Israel [concerning the ‘Palestinian problem’] except to […] smash it to bits.”
  • Globe and Mail editorial board writes, “Israel has the right to defend itself, even if the exercise of that right results in collateral civilian casualties.”
  • Barbara Kay, National Post columnist, who wrote, “Israel does not *want* to ethnically cleanse Gaza. Israel *needs* to cleanse Gaza of Hamas to stop their genocidal action.”
  • Warren Kinsella, Postmedia columnist, who wrote, “[Israel] must enter Gaza and drive Hamas and its ilk into the sea. It must wipe them off the face of the Earth. It must show no mercy.”

CJPME’s Media Accountability team has been closely tracking media coverage on these issues since the launch at the project at the start of this year. Journalists are welcome to contact CJPME for clarification, to access additional resources and guidelines, or to discuss any of these matters further.