Friday, January 09, 2009

Precision reporting in a time of crisis

How do the media cover the current Gaza conflict?

Below is an article that offers a view on how two main Arab news channels, Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, cover the current crisis.

Arab news channels differ over Gaza war coverage
Ali Khalil
Jan. 9, 2009

DUBAI, Jan 08, 2009 (AFP) - Israel's onslaught on Gaza has taken over the screens of the two main Arab news channels, Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, but each with its own perspective on objectivity and the airing of disturbing footage.

"Gaza Under Fire" is the title adopted by the Doha-based Al-Jazeera television for its round-the-clock coverage of Israel's all-out offensive.

According to Gaza medics, more than 700 Palestinians have now been killed since Israel's offensive began on December 27.

To some, the Qatari-funded channel may seem pro-Palestinian in its coverage by describing the dead as "martyrs". But its editor-in-chief, Ahmed al-Sheikh, has no apologies.

"Instead of asking why we call the dead 'martyrs,' we say stop the killing so that there would no longer be any martyrs," he told AFP, insisting the channel remains objective, allocating airtime for Israeli officials.

Read more here.

The article discusses, among others, the perspective of "objectivity" in covering the conflict, including the use of terms such as "martyrs" to refer to Palestinian victims.

But how should the press refer to Hamas: a Palestinian faction, an Islamic militant group, or a terrorist organization? Are these labels accurate or fair? Columbia Journalism Review assistant editor Katia Bachko tackles how press descriptions of Hamas shape the public's understanding of the conflict. "It’s a complicated history—which goes to underscore the inadequacy of the simplistic labels being deployed by the press during the current conflict," she explains. "Precision reporting is essential during wartime, when misinformation flows freely and all sides want to win the war for public opinion. But journalists continue to frame Hamas primarily as a terrorist organization."

War of the Words
Katia Bachko
Source: Columbia Journalism Review
Jan. 8, 2009

As the extent of physical damage and human suffering in Gaza comes into sharper focus, one aspect of the current conflict remains frustratingly unclear. Who or what is Hamas, exactly?

Definitions vary depending on which news outlet you consult. Al Jazeera English calls Hamas “the Palestinian faction that controls the Gaza Strip,” while the New York Post refers to “the Islamic militant group Hamas.” The New York Times sometimes calls Hamas “the militant Palestinian group” and sometimes adds a little more context with “Hamas, the Islamist militant group that governs Gaza.”

Read more here.

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