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'Dead' Versus 'Killed': A Closer Look at the Media Bias in Reporting Israel-Palestine Conflict

Depending upon the side they favour, media outlets have been tactfully employing language, which is resulting in hate speech and warmongering.
Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

During war and conflict – when disinformation is pumped the most – the public needs to be informed in the most accurate way possible to avoid hate speech and warmongering.

The most essential type of journalism in this process is peace journalism. Peace journalism refers to a journalistic practice that is based on facts, which seeks creative solutions for peace and pays attention to the use of language. What is needed is a language of peace, rather than reducing war to sports news where opposing sides are described as ‘winners’ and ‘losers’.

It is necessary to avoid reporting and viewing a conflict merely from the point of view of immediate trigger(s), but it would be useful to look at the underlying issues, such as not only the visible aspects but also the invisible causes that do not meet our eyes. It serves the journalistic cause to come out with possible consequences of a conflict and the connected issues. It is also important to report on the possibilities of the parties to come to a common ground, instead of focusing on their differences. We did not see examples of such journalism either in the international or in the Turkish press.

Also read: How to Deal With Visual Misinformation Circulating in the Israel-Palestine War

Western press 

The global press, and the Western press in particular, has adopted a pro-Israeli stance in this conflict.

This is not new, it has been going on for a long time. In a 2011 study conducted by the Glasgow Media Group on the news broadcasts of the BBC, the differences in the language used by journalists for Israelis and Palestinians was documented.

The study found that the BBC used terms such as “atrocity”, “brutal murder”, “mass murder”, “brutal cold-blooded murder”, “lynching” and “massacre” to describe the deaths of Israelis, and that the word “terrorist” was often associated with Palestinians.

In a similar vein, this time around in the ongoing conflict, it is quite significant to note that the Western press did not mention that the Gaza hospital attack, which killed 500 people, was carried out by Israel.

A photograph purported to be of the fire burning at the al-Ahli hospital in Gaza after an airstrike killed 500. Photo: X

The fact that the New York Times changed its headlines after the hospital attack – first to “Israeli attack”, then to “attack on the hospital in Gaza”, and finally to “explosion at the hospital in Gaza” – indicates that the use of rhetorical figures, or in other words, euphemism, to reduce the severity of the violent act.

This headline of the Washington Post – “Hundreds feared dead in Gaza hospital attack, Palestinian officials say” – creates a perception as if the Palestinians died not as a result of an attack but for some other, unknown reason.

BBC News/World’s official Twitter account (now X) used the words “dead” for those killed in Gaza and “killed” for those killed in Israel, which drew a reaction on the grounds of double standards.

Turkish media

Turkish media is also no stranger to expressions that marginalise and spread hatred in the newspapers. Here are some of the phrases used by Turkish media outlets: “Usurious Jew”, “Greek game”, “Raid on perverted Greek”, “Attitude towards Armenian”, and “Insolent Greek put in his place”

With regard to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, newspapers – both with their discourse and their attitudes towards the parties involved – have shown a journalistic approach that is far from being solution-oriented. They resorted to propaganda and agitation whilst describing the violence in its most detailed form.

When we look at the Western media, we know that they are pro-Israel as if they are supporting a football team, while the Arab media outlets have been publishing their content with a Palestine slant. Turkey, as a Muslim country, also prefers a pro-Palestinian slant, and the choice of which news to report and how to report is naturally determined by the favouring of “religious brotherhood”.

This conflict creates a dualism between Muslims and non-Muslims. In such a situation, news items justify the violence of the side they favour and blame the other side, to convey the message that ‘we are the good ones, they are the bad ones’.

The use of emotional words – such as “genocide”, “massacre”, “murderer”, “exile or death”, “persecution”, “blood and destruction”, “we cut the lifeblood”, “the lions of the ummah hit the murderer Israel” – have been seen in the headlines in Turkish media since October 7, when the latest conflict began. Such use of language does nothing but fall into the trap of sensationalism and exaggeration.

Again, the headlines in our press such as “Denaturalise the Zionist henchmen” have the potential to encourage hatred against the Jewish minority in Turkey and to prepare an environment to incite acts of violence.

What these examples have in common is that they incite violence and war, and are antagonising. Such discourses instil fear among Turkish citizens of Jewish descent, damage their honour, and also disrupt peace.

The statement made by the Jewish community of Turkey on its X (formerly Twitter) account is extremely prudent and very appropriate in this context. The Turkish Chief Rabbinate Foundation wrote on X (Twitter) in Turkish, “We strongly reject and condemn the targeting and murder of innocent civilians under any circumstances and wherever they occur – especially hospitals, schools, nursing homes, etc. This is a situation that eliminates the most basic expectation of human beings – the right to life – according to international law, it is accepted, defended, and excused. There is NO side to it. In this context, our state supports the efforts of the Republic of Turkey since the first day to ensure urgent peace, and we wish that all people will be brought to permanent peace as soon as possible.”

There are some fundamental points that should not be ignored: the historical background of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the fact that violence does not occur unilaterally by itself, and the common or conflicting interests of the parties involved in this conflict outside Israel and Palestine.

Here, the biggest task for the media is to put forward non-violent solutions and proposals in the face of this conflict and to provide a platform for discussion.

As wrong as it is to equate Jews with the Israeli government and Benjamin Netanyahu, it is equally problematic to equate Hamas with Palestinians (civilians, women, and children).

Limiting the reporting to the Hamas attack on October 7 and framing the decades-long Palestinian conflict in detail with the use of “selective sourcing”, far from what it deserves, can present events in favour of one side and against the other. Why, for example, do we not see the pro-peace sectors of both sides in the news?

Where are the Jews criticising the Israeli government, and the Palestinians and Arabs criticising Hamas? Why are opposing pacifist discourses invisible in the media?

On the other hand, journalistic ethics require journalists to verify their reporting. Otherwise, journalism falls into the trap of propaganda and fiction.

While Israel claimed that the attack on the hospital in Gaza was due to a rocket fired by Hamas, Israel was blamed by Hamas for the attack. A group of experts from the United Nations could bring out the truth, as such experts had done in the past in similar situations.

Decontextualised reporting on the Palestinian conflict and the deprivation of the Palestinian people of their most basic rights for years make it impossible to understand the underlying motivations or causes of the conflict.

Reporting that ignores the ongoing war in the region, human rights, civil rights, political and economic rights, etc., and labels one side as the ‘oppressor’ and the other side as a victim is nothing but simplistic and bad reporting.

We observe that the international media and Turkish media, with their unequal and unbalanced perspective, do not strive for justice, balance, consistency, and inclusiveness in their reportage. Instead, they demonise people.

Both the Israeli and Palestinian people are fed up with violence. The Israeli government and Hamas accusing each other of terrorism, massacres, and genocide are the biggest obstacles on the road to peace.

State administrators have a great duty in this regard, they should not cause more civilian deaths with provocative speeches and by setting their own ideological apparatus – the media – on fire.

Yasemin Giritli İnceoğlu is a Visiting Professor of Media Studies at the LSE Media and Communication Department.

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