NYT directs journalists to limit use of 'genocide', 'Palestine': report

NYT directs journalists to limit use of 'genocide', 'Palestine': report
A New York Times memo directs journalists reporting on the Israeli assault on Gaza to limit use of the word 'genocide'.
3 min read
16 April, 2024
Israel has been waging a brutal war against the Gaza Strip for more than six months [Yasser Qudaih/Anadolu/Getty]

Journalists reporting on the Israeli assault on Gaza for The New York Times have been directed to limit the use of the word "genocide", an internal memo shows.

News site The Intercept reported on Monday that it had acquired a copy of the memo, which tells journalists to reserve the name "Palestine" for "very rare cases".

The document "offers guidance about some terms and other issues we have grappled with since the start of the conflict in October".

A newsroom source quoted by The Intercept said the memo was the "kind of thing that looks professional and logical if you have no knowledge of the historical context of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict".

"But if you do know, it will be clear how apologetic it is to Israel," the source said.

Reporters were initially given the memo in November but it has since been updated.

"Issuing guidance like this to ensure accuracy, consistency and nuance in how we cover the news is standard practice," a New York Times spokesperson was quoted as saying by The Intercept.

"Across all our reporting, including complex events like this, we take care to ensure our language choices are sensitive, current and clear to our audiences."

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The document says that the "nature of the conflict" has "led to inflammatory language and incendiary accusations on all sides", adding that The New York Times should be "very cautious about using such language, even in quotations".

"Words like 'slaughter', 'massacre' and 'carnage' often convey more emotion than information. Think hard before using them in our own voice," the guidance reads.

"Can we articulate why we are applying these words to one particular situation and not another?"

The document says journalists should "focus on clarity and precision - describe what happened rather than using a label".

But The Intercept previously examined Gaza war coverage by The New York Times and two other mainstream US newspapers, revealing the outlets applied words like "slaughter", "massacre", and "horrific" almost solely to Israeli civilians killed by Palestinians.

The examination, released in January, covered from 7 October through 24 November, a window largely prior to the issuing of the memo.

The memo also addressed the use of the word "genocide".

Israel's war on Gaza has so far killed more than 33,800 people, according to the enclave's health ministry.

The International Court of Justice in January found Israel was plausibly breaching the UN Genocide Convention in Gaza.

"'Genocide' has a specific definition in international law," the New York Times memo reads.

"In our own voice, we should generally use it only in the context of those legal parameters.

"We should also set a high bar for allowing others to use it as an accusation, whether in quotations or not, unless they are making a substantive argument based on the legal definition."

The guidance describes "ethnic cleansing" as "another historically charged term", telling journalists to push people making such an allegation "for specifics" or give "proper context".

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The name "Palestine" was also addressed in the document.

"Do not use in datelines, routine text or headlines, except in very rare cases such as when the United Nations General Assembly elevated Palestine to a non-member observer state, or references to historic Palestine," it said.

The guidance also told journalists to avoid the phrase "occupied territories" where possible and instead refer to the region in question, for example Gaza or the West Bank.

This was because "each has a slightly different status", according to the document.

But both Gaza and the West Bank, as well as East Jerusalem, are recognised as occupied Palestinian territory by the UN.