Journalists Being Pushed to Give More Favourable Coverage to Hamas, Palestine: Columnist

Former columnist at The Age, Julie Szego, has labelled a joint letter an ‘Orwellian exercise in calling for ’truth.’’
Journalists Being Pushed to Give More Favourable Coverage to Hamas, Palestine: Columnist
Protesters march holding a School Strike for Palestine banner on November 23, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. Organised by School Students For Palestine, the call for action on the group's social media feeds prompted a statement from federal Education Minister Jason Clare that children should be in class during school hours. The ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict continues to cause social tensions in societies around the world, including in Australian cities. (Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images)
Daniel Y. Teng

Columnist Julie Szego has cut ties with Australia’s media union after it backed a joint letter—along with the national public broadcaster—for journalists to provide more coverage of the “immense and disproportionate suffering” of the Gaza population as a result of the Israeli military campaign.

Ms. Szego, a former columnist for The Age newspaper, said the letter effectively called for journalists to distort the truth and provide favourable coverage to Hamas.
“Once a finely tuned ‘BS detector’ was considered an attribute of good journalism, but now too many in the progressive media see it as a tool of oppression and weapon of ‘harm,’” she wrote in The Australian newspaper on Nov. 27.

On Nov. 24, the Media, Entertainment, and Arts Alliance (MEAA) sent an email to members calling for “ethical reporting” on the Israel-Hamas war.

“We stand in solidarity with our members who are Jewish and Muslim, and with all journalists who stand for ethical, accurate journalism in the public interest,” the email newsletter read.

The online letter itself says Israel’s actions, including its bombing campaign and alleged media blockade in Gaza, posed a threat to “newsgathering and press freedom in an unprecedented fashion.”
“We also call for an end to violence against civilians in Gaza, the West Bank, Israel, and Lebanon; the perpetrators of crimes against journalists and civilians be held to account; and Australian newsroom leaders to be as clear-eyed in their coverage of atrocities committed by Israel, as they are of those committed by Hamas.”

‘Truth Over Both-Sidesism’

The letter—which has been signed by several journalists, as well as the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and The Guardian newspaper—outlined eight steps to improve coverage of the war.

They include a call for journalists to focus on “truth over ‘both-sidesism’”—not to necessarily cover both sides of the debate, but to focus on actual events and figures.

“Both-sidesism is not balanced or impartial reporting; it acts as a constraint on truth by shrouding the enormous scale of the human suffering currently being perpetrated by Israeli forces,” the letter said.

Another step was to apply professional scepticism to uncorroborated Israeli government and military sources.

“The Israeli government is also an actor in this conflict, with mounting evidence it is committing war crimes and a documented history of sharing misinformation,” it said. “The Israeli government’s version of events should never be reported verbatim without context or fact-checking. This is our basic responsibility as journalists.”

The letter also called on journalists to provide “historical context” to the surprise Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel that claimed the lives of 1,200, including multiple reports of rape, as well as the taking of hundreds of hostages.

“The conflict did not start on Oct. 7 and it is the media’s responsibility to ensure audiences are fully informed. Important contextual references include the expulsion of ‘hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their native lands in 1948 to make way for the state of Israel,’” the letter said, while also citing the occupation of Palestinian territories by Israel, and imprisonment of 5,000 Palestinians.

Columnist Says Letter Calls For Reporters to Favour Hamas, Palestine

Ms. Szego, a self-proclaimed Jewish, progressive Zionist, said that while she agreed with the letter’s calls for truth over just reporting on both sides of the debate, it was in fact, calling for bias.

“Unfortunately, these journalists’ version of the truth can only be arrived at through turning off one’s BS detector, and seeing this brutal war as something other than a confrontation between a democratic state, with all its imperfections, and a jihadist terror group dedicated to its destruction,” she wrote.

“The letter is an Orwellian exercise in calling for ’truth' while peddling gross distortions thereof.”

She said while fair coverage of the suffering of Gazans was warranted, there should also be coverage of the provocative actions of local Hamas or Palestinian supporters.

“‘Full and fair coverage’ involves estimating crowd numbers and the backgrounds of attendees, as well as noting the placards—‘From the river to the sea’ and ‘Let’s clean the world of rubbish’ alongside an image of the Star of David, a symbol of the Jewish people, being cast into the rubbish bin,” she said.

“Also reporting on the renegade pro-Palestine car and motorbike convoys taking the scenic route through Sydney’s distinctively Jewish suburbs, and the 200-odd mob that descended on Jewish Caulfield [in Melbourne] in response to a still unproven accusation that ‘Zionists’ had torched a Palestinian-owned business.”

She also took issue with the push to treat Hamas with the same level of professional scepticism as the democratically-elected Israeli government.

“Israel ‘apparently’ deliberately targets journalists, according to the letter; while Hamas, we can only presume by omission, fiercely respects the Fourth Estate,” she said.

Ms. Szego also said reporting on the history of Israel-Palestine tensions should include the “Palestinians’ decades-long rejection of the Jewish people’s self-determination” since the founding of Israel in 1947—sparking several wars between Arab states and Israel.

She said that because the public is able to see through propaganda, some in the media are instead, trying to “rewrite the rules of journalism” to favour their preferred version of events.

“The rot, unfortunately, runs very deep when the national media section of the journalists’ union ... endorses such a letter as it has done,” she wrote.

“In keeping with the current vogue of grand pronouncements, I hereby renounce my membership of the journalists’ union, the MEAA, because whatever it’s about these days, it’s no longer journalism.”