For Reuters, the Israeli narrative always comes first
Since the 7 October Hamas attack and the start of Israel’s war on Gaza, media coverage has been almost non-stop. With it has come an growing focus on media analysis, and how individual news outlets have approached the coverage will, no doubt, be the subject of much future research.
The majority of daily news output is produced by the major news suppliers, namely Reuters, Associated Press and Agence France-Presse. Thompson Reuters is the second biggest news corporation in the world providing news content seen daily by one billion people worldwide.
It’s fair to say that its reporting has substantial global impact.
This is precisely why we must analyse it. After scrutinising a selection of news stories about Israel’s war on Gaza, it became clear that the structuring, ways of representing facts, use of sources and discursive practices demonstrate that Reuters’ coverage is clearly aligned with Israeli messaging.
"The extraordinary conflation of Palestinian and Israeli fatalities shamelessly belies the devastating price paid in Palestinian lives"
Since initial research was carried out, the Israeli bombardment and ground offensive has continued unrelentingly. The Palestinian death toll is now over 24,000, indicative of the sheer viciousness and brutality of the Israeli onslaught.
Voting at the UN has overwhelmingly supported a ceasefire, blocked only by US veto. South Africa has taken Israel to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) with an accusation of genocide against Palestinians in Gaza.
But even though almost every non-Western country as well as international human rights organisations have condemned Israel’s actions, Reuters continues to give Israeli messaging prominence. Let’s take a closer look.
First, there is the issue of how Reuters reports on Palestinian versus Israeli deaths. In a recent Reuters’ Daily Briefing, the extraordinary conflation of Palestinian and Israeli fatalities shamelessly belies the devastating price paid in Palestinian lives:
“The last three months of 2023 have been marked by a conflict in the Middle East that has cost thousands of lives, left families across Israel and Gaza and further afield anxious or grieving….” 28/12/2023.
In its coverage of Gaza, Western media has pushed a distorted narrative, spread disinformation, and parroted propaganda that has helped to manufacture consent for Israel's violence against Palestinians. @salimnuqul explains how ⬇ https://t.co/po6l22oxzu— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) November 18, 2023
While it is true that since 7 October, both Palestinians and Israelis have been killed, the framing of this sentence conceals the extreme incongruity in deaths as well as the inherent power imbalance that exists between the occupied and the occupier.
But it's not just the numbers that matter. It’s also how these deaths are portrayed. When it comes to Israeli casualties, even those of soldiers, Reuters runs emotive stories which personalise the person killed, as with a recent report about the death of a young Israeli hopeful for the Eurovision Song Contest:
“Dressed in army fatigues and lieutenant’s stripes, he sang a popular ballad and was green-lit for the next round in the selection process… ‘I imagined this year differently, as a year of aspiration and of living my dreams,’ Greenglick said in a Dec. 14 post on Facebook…” 27/12/2023.
These kinds of humanising stories are rarely given to Palestinian civilians.
Let’s take another example. The three main events that I focused my research on are the Israeli attack on Al Shifa Hospital, the hostage and prisoner release and the 7th October Hamas attack.
The Israeli army attack on Al Shifa Hospital shocked the world. 650 patients were being treated in the hospital including 36 premature babies. 3000 displaced Palestinians were also sheltering there from Israeli bombing.
For days, Israeli forces held the hospital under siege, shooting at Palestinians inside or those that tried to flee. This extraordinary attack was rationalised and justified by military and political discourse in Reuters’ reporting over a period of days:
“Israel says the hospital sits atop tunnels housing a headquarters for Hamas fighters using patients as shields, which Hamas denies.” 13/11/2023
“In a statement, the military said: "Based on intelligence information and an operational necessity, IDF forces are carrying out a precise and targeted operation against Hamas in a specified area in the Shifa Hospital." 15/11/2023.
To counter these claims Reuters only cited Hamas denials, a WHO condemnation and interviewed a doctor.
No evidence of a ‘command centre’ was found under Al Shifa. The sensational claim was discredited but the rhetoric and official Israeli messaging, given so much prominence by Reuters while the attack on the hospital was raging, greatly outweighed coverage of the killing, wounding and terrorising of patients, the displaced and medical staff. The falsity of Israel’s claims was not subsequently redressed.
"The joy felt by Palestinian family members at the release of their loved ones compares to that of the Israelis. But this was not reflected in Reuters’ coverage"
Now let’s look at the hostage and prisoner exchange. The release of 110 Israeli hostages garnered much media attention.
The individual stories of the hostages, many of them children, their ordeal, their loss of loved ones, and their happy reunion with family and pets made for good news stories. Psychologists were interviewed to talk about the children’s prospects of recovery. These stories help the reader empathise with Israeli suffering.
“Saturday also brought hours of nail-biting waiting for the families of hostages, some of whose joy was tempered by the continued captivity of others.” 26/11/2023.
“…nine-year-old Ohad Munder, who ran down a hospital corridor into his father’s open arms”.
“‘It will never be a full recovery,” Dollberg said. “It would never be that … it’s going to be very painful to hear the stories and meet the children.” 25/11/2023.
The release of the Palestinian prisoners was framed very differently. The majority of the 7200 Palestinian prisoners currently held in Israeli jails are political prisoners and are detained without conviction under ‘administrative detention’ conducted by Israeli military courts. But little context was provided as to why these Palestinians were detained in the first place.
107 of those released were children. They were imprisoned for offences ‘against Israel’s security’, such as stone-throwing or social media messages.
The joy felt by Palestinian family members at the release of their loved ones compares to that of the Israelis. But this was not reflected in Reuters’ coverage, if there was any reporting from the scene at all.
The initial group of Palestinians released was described as:
“Thirty nine Palestinian women and minors detained on various charges.” 25/11/2023.
When the legal charge was described, it was not fully explained, for example, that ‘a knife assault’ was committed but not that it was against an Israeli occupying soldier or the military police.
Such omissions misconstrue the reality of the violence of occupation and its provocation of such acts of resistance.
Another telling point is that the Palestinian child prisoners were described very rarely as children but as ‘teenage males, teenagers’ and ‘minors’ in Reuters’ reports. No background about their trauma or personal stories was given.
It may be concluded that the discrepancy in the coverage was because the Israeli media machine seamlessly supplied stories and images of the hostages reunited with their family and such resources were lacking on the Palestinian side. Reuters, however, has the means and could have interviewed more prisoners’ families to tell the human story.
"Such de-selection deliberately misleads any reader who has a genuine wish to understand the reality of the situation in Israel and Palestine"
Finally, let's look at recurring language and tropes in relation to Hamas’ attack of the 7th October and Israel’s bombing of Gaza.
The Hamas attack on 7th October was described in the following ways:
“Hamas fighters rampaged through southern Israel killing civilians. Around 1,200 people died and 240 were dragged to Gaza as hostages according to Israel’s tally, in the deadliest day in its 75-year history.” 13/11/2023.
This is repeated in various forms in nearly every article about current events in the intro or tail:
“Israel has vowed to annihilate the Hamas movement that rules the Gaza Strip in retribution for the deadliest attack on Jews since the Holocaust, when hundreds of gunmen poured across the barrier fence and rampaged through Israeli towns on Saturday.” 9/10/2023.
Like other Palestinians who get airtime in western media, @hzomlot has been consistently interrogated rather than interviewed whenever he is invited to speak about the Gaza war. Here is what he had to say after Piers Morgan attempted to draw a parallel between Hamas and ISIS 👇 pic.twitter.com/vecHSXdB9w— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) October 20, 2023
The description of the Hamas attack as a ‘rampage’ may not be inaccurate. But the use of such emotive language often in Reuters’ reporting as context for the Israeli bombing of Gaza gives the readers a contextual frame to view and rationalise Palestinian deaths.
Conversely, in describing the human cost of the war on Gaza, Reuters writes:
“Palestinian health authorities said nearly 21,000 people had been killed in Israeli strikes, with thousands more feared buried under rubble” 28/12/ 2023.
Similar re-caps have been repeated in numerous reports from the start of the Israeli onslaught, only amended to document the increasing number of casualties. The language used and framing of this information is done in a clinical manner.
The numbers speak for themselves, to be sure, but the perfunctory way the statistics are rolled out dehumanises Palestinians.
The contextual framing constructing the discourse of the indiscriminate bombing of Palestinians is overwhelmingly one of Israeli retaliation. Conversely, however, no context is given for the 7th October attacks.
In all the articles seen, not one mentioned the reality of the 17-year-long Israeli blockade of Gaza and its UN designation as Israeli occupied territory. Reuters refers to Gaza rather fuzzily as ‘a coastal enclave’ omitting the fact of 75 years of Palestinian displacement and that 80% of Palestinians in Gaza are refugees from 1948.
Reuters avoids such contextualisation. Only one quote about the historical causes of the violence was found, from Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh:
"How many times have we warned you that the Palestinian people have been living in refugee camps for 75 years, and you refuse to recognise the rights of our people?" 9/10/2023.
When some background is given, Reuters misleads the reader:
“Gaza's 75 years of woe from the end of British rule to the present day - a brief history.” 12/10/2023.
The link leads to a page which omits any information about the violent creation of Israel by Zionist militias and their expulsion of the Palestinians.
"Reuters' coverage, seen daily by one billion readers, is aligned with the aggressor in what may be imminently proved to be genocide at the ICJ"
Such de-selection deliberately misleads any reader who has a genuine wish to understand the reality of the situation in Israel and Palestine.
In addition, Reuters relies disproportionately heavily on Israeli sources and many of the articles are dominated by the tone set by Israeli messaging. The few sources that bear witness to the killing and terrible suffering in Gaza come from humanitarian organisations such as the UN and WHO and only occasionally are Palestinian voices heard.
In just this exploratory analysis of Reuters’ reporting on the war on Gaza, the bias, omissions and decontextualization are clear. Reuters’ coverage, seen daily by one billion readers, is aligned with the aggressor in what may be imminently proved to be genocide at the ICJ.
Such epistemic violence is one which the oppressed and many in the Global South understand well, as do western readers who make an effort to access alternative news sources and on-the-ground voices through social media that challenge the dominant Western news paradigms.
Dr. Anna Saif is an independent researcher and formerly lectured at the Universities of Surrey, Portsmouth and Birzeit. Her principle research interests focus on textual and visual colonial discourse analysis with particular interest in the Arab world.
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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.