International media failed professionally and ethically in Gaza
Op-ed: According to civilian death toll measure, Nazi Germany – which had one million dead civilians in World War II – was a victim of the aggressive US, which lost 'only' 12,000 civilians.
The media coverage of wars affects the global public opinion, leaders and decision making. Its trends can determine the results just as much as what it achieved in the battlefield.
The main problem presented in the media during all of Israel's wars and operations in the past decade is proportionality and the number of civilian casualties. The media is the main source of information on the extent, type and source of losses.
The coverage of Operation Protective Edge
and the civilian casualties
in the global media, mainly in the West, was characterized by an anti-Israel bias and serious professional and ethical failures. They appeared in all components of the journalistic coverage: Pictures, headlines, reports, editorials and cartoons.
The images from Gaza showed only what Hamas permitted the media to broadcast and describe. Hamas terrorized and censored journalists. It only allowed them to broadcast images of destruction and killing of civilians, particularly women and children, and staged situations on the ground.
There were no images of rockets launched from populated areas and from within UNRWA schools, mosques and hospitals. There were only images of civilians' bodies and funerals and very few images of Hamas fighters, if any.
Media outlets around the world failed to mention the restricting conditions they had operated under in Gaza, which unavoidably led to false and misleading reports.
Only after they left Gaza, few journalists like the Italian Gabriele Barbati and the French Gallagher Fenwick dared to expose the way Hamas terrorized journalists,
its use of civilians as human shields and its failed launches which resulted in the killing of children, like at the Shati refugee camp on July 28. This is an ethical failure.
The media have turned the civilian death toll into the only measure of the justness of the Israeli warfare. The New York Times and Haaretz, for instance, published the Gaza death toll on their front pages every day. The message is clear: The higher the number of civilian casualties, the more "war crimes" Israel is committing.
This measure is groundless. According to its distorted logic, Nazi Germany – which had one million dead civilians in World War II – was the victim of the aggressiveness of the United States, which lost "only" 12,000 civilians, and Britain, which lost "only" 67,000 civilians. This is a logic and ethical failure.
The media knew that the reports published by the Palestinians, the United Nations and the Red Cross about civilian victims in all the conflicts since the first Lebanon War until today were false. In Operation Protective Edge as well, the claims of 75-80% civilian casualties are false.
The New York Times and the BBC, which emphasized the "victim competition," are now admitting that the reported number of civilian deaths contradicts statistical tests. This is a professional failure.
China and India's broadcast networks exposed the missing context of Israel's efforts to avoid harming civilians and Hamas' counteractions. Who would have thought that communist China's international broadcast network (CCTV) would cover the Gaza conflict in a much more accurate and balanced way than the British BBC?
This surprising fact points more than anything to the anti-Israel bias and perhaps anti-Semitism of Western media outlets. The biased and misleading coverage contributed to the hasty calls to prosecute Israel for war crimes, to mass protests against Israel and to anti-Semitic incidents in Europe.
The Western media must report to their consumers about their professional and ethical failures in Gaza. I seriously doubt they have the courage to probe their own failures as they often demand from governments and organizations.
Prof. Eytan Gilboa is the director of the School of Communication and a senior research associate at the BESA Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University.