In Canada, Palestinian journalists are deemed incapable of being 'objective'
Ever since I was a child nestled on the couch, watching Al Jazeera with my dad, I’ve always wanted to be a journalist. I was fascinated by the strength it took for reporters to ask the uncomfortable questions. Accountability and service journalism for the people. As the daughter of exiled and displaced Palestinian parents, I was exposed to a dichotomy of North America versus the world.
I watched as the US invaded nation after nation, and how the US and other invading powers were celebrated by the major news outlets like The Economist. I also witnessed a different kind of repression in the Gulf.
When I moved to Canada in the 2000’s, this repression was prevalent, but on a more sinister and quieter scale. The settler colonialism, police brutality, racism, and surveillance pushed me to resonate with journalism as a medium for storytelling.
"At just 24, I already feel demoralized by the state of the media landscape and my career based on the precedent of the exclusion of Palestinian journalists in North America and Europe"
At just 24, I already feel demoralized by the state of the media landscape and my career based on the precedent of the exclusion of Palestinian journalists in North America and Europe. My commentary on the double standards, dubbed the “Palestine exception”, puts me in a position where I am deemed non-objective and biased.
A few days ago, I posted a Twitter thread detailing an interview I had with the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) in March. The first interview, a phone call, followed the basic set of interview questions, but then the interviewee awkwardly fumbled about “pro-Palestine” commentary and the “Palestinian issue”. The interviewee said it was fine to discuss it with friends or colleagues, but to avoid doing so online. I embarrassingly said I can be objective and assured him it wouldn’t be an issue.
I was short-listed for the position, but felt ashamed that I didn’t push back. This is the self-censorship that Palestinian journalists practice early on. I didn’t get the position, but decided to speak up about it anyways in the hopes of creating a healthier space for Palestinian journalists. My complaint was dismissed, and I wondered if the comment had actually been about “objectivity” or just Palestine? Neither should impact my ability to perform a job properly.
Following the thread, I received messages of support from reporters at CBC and the Toronto Star, alongside anecdotes from Palestinian and non-Palestinian journalists, detailing their experiences of frustrations with CAJ and Canadian newsrooms in general.
The assassination of Palestinian journalist #ShireenAbuAkleh shocked the world. But it was far from an aberration in Israel's battle to contain the truth and control the narrative on its human rights abuses, @Lowkey0nline writes👇 https://t.co/ibnQeU8CF3— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) May 28, 2022
In response to my tweet, Alex Cosh, managing editor of The Maple, wrote “the CAJ told me they hadn't said anything about Israel's killing of Abu Akleh because they ‘typically only issue statements on matters that have direct impact on Canadian reporters’. This distinction is arbitrary, and their silence is even more concerning in light of this news.”
While Palestinian journalists have their ability to do their job scrutinised by virtue of our identity, many reporters peddle immoral opinions and maintain lucrative careers. News coverage on Russia and Ukraine is a glaring reminder. Journalists at Al Jazeera News and CBS News repeated racist stereotypes, implying that Syrians and Afghans were destined for war and suggesting that blonde, blue-eyed Europeans were more worthy of empathy.
Another glaring hypocrisy was how journalists declared their admiration for Ukrainian armed resistance. They changed profile pictures to reflect the flag of Ukraine. They possessed the capacity and authority to use words newsrooms have been reluctant to use for Palestinians. “Terrorist” versus “freedom fighter”, “occupation” versus “conflict.”
At the 2022 Pulitzer Prizes awards ceremony, a special citation for Ukrainian journalists was included. In 2018, Yaser Murtaja, a Palestinian photographer, was killed by an Israeli sniper while reporting on the Gaza border protests. His crime? Documenting the realities of life under occupation. Will we see a special citation for him?
Journalists have opinions naturally, but what is deemed an acceptable opinion is where the double standards emerge. During the Iraq war, Washington Post contributor Max Boot wrote, “once Afghanistan has been dealt with, America should turn its attention to Iraq.”
Last year during the Israeli bombardment on Gaza, CBC Toronto producer Laura Green sent a staff email saying “We do not use Palestine to refer to the West Bank or Gaza. It’s ok to use clips from protesters saying it but we should not, as there is no modern country of Palestine.” This erasure of Palestine altogether is reflected in CBC’s official policy.
Green also suggested that staff “avoid using Palestine colloquially in our own exchanges,” as to reduce the risk that someone might “accidentally write or say it in something that is published or broadcast.”
"But despite the dozens of alternative words newsrooms use to avoid ‘Palestine’, who gives editorial guidelines the authority to determine a country’s existence?"
Not only are these concerted editorial efforts to erase Palestinian statehood and identity, they are also explicitly political decisions. And by enforcing this bias, decisions like these are intended to influence readers and obfuscate the reality of Israeli occupation.
But despite the dozens of alternative words newsrooms use to avoid ‘Palestine’, who gives editorial guidelines the authority to determine a country’s existence?
Last summer, hundreds of Canadian journalists penned an open letter to Canadian newsrooms, asking for fair coverage on Palestine. They wrote, “fair and balanced coverage should include historical and social context, reporters with knowledge of the region and, crucially, Palestinian voices.”
In response to the historic letter, several of the signatories were barred from covering the Middle East and/or reprimanded.
Am I less credible because I use words like settler colonialism and occupation? Does that mean I can’t do my job and report about other topics surrounding the Middle East, politics, or Islamophobia? Surely, my lived experiences and intimate knowledge of the Palestinian context should be an asset, giving me credibility (as it would on any other issue) rather than delegitimising me.
A number of prominent journalists have served in the Israeli Occupation Forces IOF themselves or have family that did. Jeffrey Goldberg, editor in chief of The Atlantic, is one such example, as is NYT reporter Isabel Kershner, whose son also served in the IOF. This is never considered a conflict of interest, or undermines their ability to be ‘objective’, even though it is clear that their reporting has a pro-Israel bias.
The silencing of Palestinian voices is a systemic issue, coming from the top echelons of the media and backed by decades of editorial enforcement.
On May 11th, veteran Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed by the IOF. The media frenzy that ensued was the usual consistent line of the invisible killer, the passive voice. For the AP, Forbes, New York Times, and Reuters, Shireen “died from a bullet” or was “killed by gunfire.”
"The silencing of Palestinian voices is a systemic issue, coming from the top echelons of the media and backed by decades of editorial enforcement"
The CAJ has chosen complete silence.
Despite all this, I remain positive, because the media landscape is slowly adapting, and conversations and new guidelines, like those by AMEJA, on how to report on Palestine promise change.
I know my background makes me an empathetic journalist, a sharp and critical thinker, and I don’t have to pretend to be someone I’m not. Eventually, there will be a day of reckoning where Palestinian journalists won’t lose opportunities because of our identity or solidarity with our people.
Dalya Al Masri is a journalist and writer based in Vancouver, Canada. Her commentary and work has been featured in Columbia Journalism Review, Al Jazeera English, Huffington Post, Globe and Mail, Passage, and others. She is a member of the Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association (AMEJA), and the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA).
Follow her on Twitter: @dalya_masri
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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.