There is a vast difference in reporting from a war scene and reporting on a war scene, and the war between Hamas and Israel offers a challenge and a lesson to journalists covering the conflict.
The casualty figure is a stark indication about just how quickly this has escalated. More than 1 400 Israelis died since Hamas launched an invasion on 7 October 2023 and as of 30 October, over 8 000 Palestinians living in Gaza have been reportedly killed in the Israeli Army response.
In addition, at least 36 journalists have been killed, the majority of which were Palestinian. It’s an issue that has the world divided, but as journalists reporting on it from a distance, it’s important that we verify information before publishing it, and ensure that our sources are trusted and credible. This is a sensitive topic, and there are growing calls to ensure that we get the facts straight.
As journalists based in Africa and further afield, we are likely relying on second-hand information from other media houses who have reporters on the ground. New information is emerging every minute as the conflict unfolds: every day there is a new development, a higher death toll and more destruction. The global audience, including world leaders, policy-makers, activists, experts and politicians will have an opinion, and as journalists we are expected to report on these ongoing developments.
But before we can make our audience understand the war, it’s important to first educate ourselves, because while the horrifying scenes get global attention, we do not want to risk masking the reason for the war.
The first rule, as with any story, is to know the history and context. This includes the geography, the population, the ongoing political developments and what the international community and experts are saying about it. A good place to start is The Guardian’s Explainer on the roots of the war which can be found here.
Secondly, terminology. Language plays a significant role in framing a story and when it comes to an already divided issue, we need to pay extra attention to the words we use when explaining the situation.
Some prominent examples are using passive and active voice in describing a situation.
Other key terminology to know and understand are: Illegal occupation, settlers, apartheid, occupied territories, terrorists, Zionism
See more here
The third, and most important rule is to verify the information.
If you’re relying on second-hand information, make sure that the information itself is factual and comes from a credible source. Information under these circumstances is easily misconstrued, placed under the wrong context, selected and framed in a way to purport a particular message.
Conduct your research and do your homework when it comes to the ownership and politics of a media house before using their content. For example, the Jerusalem Post versus Al Jazeera. The former is often uncritical of Israeli Defence Force action which has led to the death of journalists. The latter is based in Qatar and is often uncritical of violent Palestinian action because of its links to the Qatari government’s diplomatic position regarding the occupied territories.
If you are using information from social media, then you must be extra cautious in ensuring that the information has not been modified, edited or taken out of context, and that it is indeed reflective of the current events.
Fourthly, remember your humanity.
Thousands of lives are being impacted by this war, and the international community is calling Israel’s actions on Palestinains a genocide. Homes and hospitals have been bombed, broken down and completely turned to rubble in the besieged city of Gaza.
Over the weekend of 28 and 29 October the Israeli’s shut down internet access to Gaza in preparation for their ground assault.
Israel’s military is now using conventional weapons such as fighter bombers to drop thousands of explosive devices on Gaza, destroying its infrastructure and causing heavy civilian casualties. Water and food is reportedly running out as the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) has shut down all aid convoys and targeted Gaza water infrastructure in its bombing raids. Power was cut soon after the Hamas invasion on 7th October as the IDF targeted power stations, while hospitals report that their generators have run out of diesel. This is fatal for babies in incubators and those on life support.
Israel has been charged with breaking international law and for committing war crimes in Gaza, including the targeting of civilians in what appears to be carpet bombing raids, and for destroying Palestinians homes previously. Right-wing Jewish extremist settlers have violated land agreements in recent years, and under the conservative government of Benyamin Netanyahu, these land seizures have accelerated.
On the other hand, Hamas’ stated aim is the destruction of Israel and Hamas, the radical Islamist movement which rules Gaza has repeatedly called for Jews to be killed. Hamas has seized more than 200 Jewish hostages, including children, during their raid into Israel on the 7th October and this has further complicated both the efforts to stop the war, and how to report it.
Journalists are being called on to take sides with Palestinians calling the Israelis Zionist terrorists, and Israelis calling Palestinians Islamic terrorists. The role of reporters is to report, and one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter, unless the reporter happens to be fighting their own war from a particular position.
As journalists summarise events from afar, it remains imperative to avoid emotive knee-jerk reporting which turns into a propaganda exercise for either side.
Here are resources to help you understand the war, and your responsibility to accurately report on it:
- Tips and resources for covering the Israel-Gaza conflict – IJNet
- Israel-Gaza conflict: when social media fakes are rampant, news verification is vital – The Conversation
- Accuracy in journalism – Media helping media
- Israel-Gaza war in maps and charts: Live Tracker – Al Jazeera
- FACT CHECK: Misinformation about the Israel-Hamas war is flooding social media. Here are the facts – africanews
War Reporting is a very specific brand of journalism carried out by only the most hardened writers, photographers and videographers. In the escalating conflict that is the war in Gaza, these journalists must be honoured as they are conducting the most difficult and deadly assignments of their lives.
(Editor’s note – we need to write about how this is covered rather than deciding to throw our lot in with one side or another in what is a war underpinned by religion and politics.)