OPINION by Andriques Che Petersen- While they may be reluctant, and no matter how objective they believe they are, or how strongly they adhere to the ethics of balanced reporting, if you asked any journalist if they have ever had to choose a hero and a villain in a story, or to decide on their own whose evidence has the most weight: they will answer yes for at least one incident.
I say this because over the last three weeks I have read so many articles on the Israeli-Gaza conflict that I can quote the death toll on both sides without needing to fact check at any time. And each and every single article I have read has a bias.
Regardless of whether it was American online news portals like CNN, Time or others that sway towards blatantly supporting Palestinians, like the very portal you’re reading this on or Al Jazeera and quite a number of services that exist on the fringes of mainstream media.
With this, I would like to equip our readers to be able to spot when they are being duped. This is not to say that they are actively being duped by the journalist who has his name in the byline, but very often editors take liberties with words and twist their shape and meaning.
For example, yesterday, in an article on Time.com labeled ‘Hamas Agrees To 24-Hour Holiday Truce in Gaza War’ this appeared:
“Israel had offered a 24-hour truce late Saturday, but Hamas — which has demanded the lifting of the Israeli and Egyptian blockade on Gaza as well as the release of Palestinian prisoners — rejected it.”
The above, to be fair, gives facts and has little to no evocative language, but read it again and again and you begin to believe that Hamas is indignant, and is therefore the aggressor here. Here we have a face and a heel, as fans of action films might know, we have a hero and a villain, Israel and Hamas.
To be candid, these articles depict a battle in which both parties are equally equipped, with equal resources and equal fire and manpower. The majority of the world believes this kind of thing.
But at the same time then, I would ask of you, the reader, whether it is news depicting the half century of Israeli soldiers dead as tragic or news depicting the more than 1000 Palestinians dead in the conflict as tragic; does it matter who’s dead, really?
Like I said, we at VOC ourselves stand up for the Palestinian people and the hardships they endure, and by all means Israel has been the aggressor since its establishment in 1948. But! At the same time let us not forget the balance, where balance means reporting freely, without consequence on evidence observable through research or via eye-witness accounts.
Balance means representing what you see, hear and receive as evidence. But is this balanced report fair?
If I am told 1000 Palestinians have perished, I will need at least two corroborating sources to make it stick, I can use other news sources as quotable; if I hear fifty Israeli soldiers have perished, I should do the same. But ultimately, the use of language when describing these events influences the reader in such a way that it can skew their entire view towards an entire country’s populace.
This causes a dilemma for me: when weighing up the evidence in this conflict, even from the outlets biased towards supporting Israel, one can plainly see that Palestinians are being victimized and are the ones oppressed.
I am aware of this, I’ve supported the Palestinian cause since the moment I boycotted Coca-Cola and Israeli made products when I was 16. I know the difference between Jews and Zionists, and the fact that Palestine is not just a Muslim country, that Christians, Samaritans and atheists are being killed there too. But are you aware of this? Is the public aware of this? Are we, the supposed Muslim media doing enough to ensure people do understand this? Or are we only perpetuating the same kind of bias, perhaps turned towards the other cheek, as those conservative Israeli-backing media houses?
I am in no saying we must begin painting Israel as a furry puppy being trampled on, it is not, in my own capacity as a free thinker I agree with Iran’s first Ayatollah Khomeini that Israel is a “little Satan”, America’s little brother. But as a journalist I am not allowed to. None of us are allowed to. But at the same time we also cannot allow the Palestinian authority to be painted as an angel either.
Rather, we should accept and only report on the actions and hits each side take, give the people numbers, show them trends, show them pictures, but let us not run into the “Kill the Jews” language I’ve read too many times from some of my own friends on social media: calm down, there are others like me out there, that read Torah translations and struggle through the Talmud too but who are aware of the fact that does not entitle us to usurp other people’s land.
Let us not run towards the “Israel is the Holy land and it must be defended” cliché if you are a Jew living in South Africa, sit down, a Jewish homeland could have been in Uganda or even Tasmania; to them I say we of the Jewish faith have no homeland, the land of Israel is where ever we are.
Ultimately, we journalists must get our act together. It is not only in this conflict that this language appears. We have become complacent, we have forgotten that our purpose is to report and leave it up to the reader to make their own conclusions. But we are the key-masters to that. A report is like surgery, every word, like every cut, has a purpose. And we owe it to those who read our work to ensure every cut is precise.
Andriques Che Petersen is a VOC News reporter, writer and social media commentator.