Motaz Azaiza, a 24 year old reporter based in Gaza has been documenting the everyday life of Gazans since the war started on 7 October. The images and videos he captured with his mobile phone depicted scenes of collapsed buildings and mountains of rubble which family members and others would dig through to find their loved ones. He captured the dire scenes in under-resourced hospitals where more than one child would be found on a hospital bed, bandaged and crying for help. He documented the last moments before their homes were blown to pieces or saw their loved ones die.
He humanised his subjects, and showed the world what was happening on the ground in Gaza on Instagram.
On 23 January, after over 100 days of tireless, but fearless reporting, Azaiza hung up his press vest, and decided to evacuate Gaza for his safety.
Azaiza was one of many other people who sought their mobile devices on that fateful morning on 7 October to capture what was going on in their neighbourhood in Gaza, oblivious of the impact and repercussions it might have for their own city, the world and journalism.
The world is witnessing a war unfold on their TV screens and mobile phones; where both mainstream and citizen reporting have become channels for information. The nature of war is unpredictable, and reporting on it in this climate tests the bounds of conventional journalism.
Citizen reporting has become more commonplace and the access to mobile phones has also made it easier to share stories.
Citizen journalism is conducted by people who are not professional journalists but who disseminate information using websites, blogs, and social media. In this case, citizens are getting access to places that professional and mainstream journalists often cannot access, and their contribution to the international dialogue has grown exponentially.
Citizen journalism also enables the diversification of voices and allows the audience to witness the issue from a different angle, with most content being shared in real-time.
Some examples of citizen journalism in the case of reporting on the war on Gaza are Instagram pages such as “Eye on Palestine” which has over 10 million followers. It shares content from other citizens and gives them credit to ensure the validity of the posts. The feed is rapid and it showcases real and raw images of scarred children in hospitals where the floors are blotted with blood, and medical supplies strewn across the floor. The wailing of mothers and family members are also recorded as they reject the reality of their child’s death, and the subsequent wrapping of their corpses in white sheets and lining them alongside each other. It provides a mirror to the world seeking to understand and see things for what they are.
But with everything online, as journalists and consumers of the news and information, we still have the responsibility to fact-check and verify content before sharing it. Gaza has undergone more than one war, and while this is one of the worst it may have seen, old content can be mistaken for new, which may distort realities.
Propogandists and disinformation advocates exist on both sides.
Media specialists have said that the values of journalism under these circumstances can be upheld by methods of open source investigation techniques, often referred to as open source intelligence or OSINT journalism. This is the use of data that is publicly available to verify and report on stories including videos, pictures, geolocations, expert knowledge and even satellite imagery.
According to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, OSINT journalism has proven to be extremely valuable when reporting on wars. It states that:
“Bellingcat analysed footage from the sites of two attacks at kibbutzim in Israel using geolocation to learn what happened. Similarly, the Washington Post’s Visual Forensics team used videos, photos and satellite images to map some of the places where the Israeli Defence Forces have advanced inside Gaza”
The Guardian’s investigation correspondent, Manisha Ganguly has also weighed in.
‘“These kinds of visual evidence or imagery creates new ways of forensically analysing the ground reality that is being reported by civilians and allowing us to confirm the atrocities they are experiencing firsthand,” Ganguly said.
“At the same time, it allows us to fact-check the claims being made by state actors engaged in conflict.”
The objective is to combine open source investigations with traditional reporting techniques, such as testimonial evidence or on-the-ground reporting where possible.
As such, journalists near and far can employ these techniques to offer support to our colleagues in besieged areas where internet access is cut or limited and support them in telling the story that matters, because journalism matters.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported on 23 January that at least 83 journalists and media workers have been killed: 76 Palestinian, four Israeli, and three Lebanese. A further 16 were reported injured, three journalists were reported missing, and 25 journalists were reported arrested. CPJ has also noted multiple assaults, threats, cyber-attacks, censorship, and killings of journalists and their family members.
Journalists in South Africa have condemned the targeting and killing of media workers in Gaza.
South African Journalist Solidarity Campaign along with other journalists have also organised a nation-wide vigil in four main locations, in honour of the over 100 fallen coworkers on 28 January at 6pm
Eastern Cape – Makanda, Rhodes University Drostdy Arch
Kwazulu Natal – Durban, University of Kwazulu Natal, Howard Campus
Gauteng – Johannesburg, Mary Fitzgerald Square
Western Cape – Cape Town, St. Georges Cathedral.