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Saturday, May 25, 2024

Gaza: Belling the cat of media hypocrisy

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By Imraan Buccus

White liberal opinion in South Africa is quite correctly troubled with the fate of journalists in Russia and China.

These are both authoritarian regimes according to the West, and Putin runs a state that is well characterised as a sort of authoritarian gangster nationalism. We should all share this concern.

However, white liberal opinion is mostly silent on the repression of journalists in Western backed authoritarian states, such as Rwanda and Saudi Arabia. It has even been largely silent on the brazen slaughter of journalists by the Israeli state.

This is not new. During the 2009 assault on Gaza Israel killed five journalists. And who can forget the killing of the Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh while covering an Israeli incursion in the West Bank in 2022. A 2023 UN report found that Israel used “lethal force without justification”.

Various reports show that around 100 journalists and media workers have been killed in Gaza since October 7, close to 30 have been detained and four are missing. Just a few weeks ago Muhammad Salama, an Al-Aqsa TV channel journalist was killed, together with his family in an Israeli attack on his home in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza. This is not the full story. A new law now allows for the closure of foreign media houses for 45 days and is likely to stay in place until the attack on Gaza concludes.

Al Jazeera, the leading global alternative to the Western media, has been specifically targeted.

Controlling the media through bans, intimidation, and sometimes assassination is nothing new. The EU’s banning of Russia’s RT follows a well worn path that includes the apartheid special branch arresting Percy Qoboza in 1977 and banning the anti-apartheid newspaper “The World”. In December 1980 four black newspapers, Post Transvaal, Saturday Post, Sunday Post and the Sowetan were banned by the apartheid government, or the 2022 banning of Belarusian media outlet Nasha Niva.

Inflicting peril on the media is the blunt instrument of the insecure dictator, precariously holding onto power, much like Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu said on X that: “Al Jazeera harmed Israel’s security, actively participated in the October 7 massacre, and incited against Israeli soldiers … I intend to act immediately in accordance with the new law to stop the channel’s activity.”

Al Jazeera is known for its cutting edge reporting from Gaza and has suffered serious losses. The Al Jazeera Gaza bureau chief Wael al-Dahdouh had four members of his family killed in an air strike. Astoundingly he went back to the field moments after laying his family members to rest. Some days later his son Hamza al-Dahdouh, also an Al Jazeera journalist, was killed when his car was targeted between Khan Younis and Rafah.

Leading publications and channels in the Western media, such as the New York Times, the Guardian, CNN and the BBC, have been seriously compromised by their coverage of the genocidal assault on Gaza by the Israeli state. Misinformation by the Israeli state has repeatedly been taken seriously without evidence simply on the basis that it comes from the Israeli state. We have seen a dramatic difference in the coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the Israeli invasion of Gaza. There has been overwhelming sympathy for Ukrainian victims of an illegal war, but vastly less sympathy for the Palestinian victims of a genocidal Israeli assault.

A report by USAid that has recently been made available under the Freedom of Information Act shows that it has been state policy by the US to work with the big social media companies to steer media consumers away from independent media critical of the US and towards US affiliated media such as Bellingcat. After this was implemented many left publications suffered an overnight collapse in their audiences. The USAid report also shows a state commitment to “discrediting the brand, the credibility and reputation of those making false allegations”.

Of course we should all reject disinformation, from wherever it comes, but the report clearly conflates legitimate critique with actual disinformation and therefore reveals a state backed attack on independent media.

The Israeli and US states are very close allies, with the US state providing the Israeli state with the bulk of its weapons and military funding. The US state has acted against dissidents like Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange but of course it does not openly assassinate journalists. But the Israeli state does, and the support it enjoys from the US makes the US complicit.

This is a very distressing situation. If there is hope for real media freedom around the issue of in Palestine it probably lies in the millions of Americans of good conscience who are opposing Joe Biden’s support for the Israeli state and demanding justice for the Palestinian cause Palestine.

If white liberals here at home wish to avoid the gross hypocrisy that currently hobbles the credibility of their politics they need to accept that all the major global powers – the US as well as Russia and China – wish to shape the global media narrative, and that Israel is waging the worst attack on media freedom by any state in the world.

Yes, let’s stand up for media freedom in Russia and China, but let’s do the same for Palestine.

* Dr Imraan Buccus is an academic and political analyst.

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of or Independent Media.

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