Journalists face conflict when covering Israel-Gaza attacks

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Journalists have been wounded, censored and prevented from leaving the Gaza strip while covering five days of air strikes and bombings from both sides of the Israel-Gaza conflict.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper reacted on the air Sunday to a nearby explosion in Gaza City. Eight journalists in Gaza were wounded earlier when an Israeli aircraft hit two media buildings, reports Reuters.

The attacks were aimed at Hamas communication devices located on the buildings’ roofs, the Israeli military said.

The military accused Hamas of using reporters as shields for their operations, and said the journalists using the buildings were not the target.

The Foreign Press Association in Jerusalem said it was “concerned” by the attacks, according to The New York Times. The organization referenced a United Nations resolution that “journalists, media professionals and associated personnel engaged in dangerous professional missions in areas of armed conflict shall be considered civilians, to be respected and protected as such.”

Journalists using the two buildings include a Hamas television channel, al-Quds TV, Sky News and ITN. Germany’s ARD, Kuwait TV and the Italian RAI also used the buildings.

In addition to the attacks on the two media centers, the Israel military took over broadcasts from two local Gaza radio stations, the Times reported. Israel interrupted the stations’ broadcasting, instead airing a warning message:

“We recommend that you stay away from the places of terrorists and the infrastructure of Hamas. Hamas is playing with fire and putting you at risk.”

The Israelis aren’t the only ones interfering with journalists and news coverage. The Israel Foreign Ministry said on Saturday that Hamas prevented 22 foreign journalists from leaving the Gaza Strip.

The New York Times reported Monday that a drone attack “killed the driver of a taxi hired by journalists and displaying ‘Press’ signs, although it was not clear which journalists hired it, Palestinian officials said.” Drivers and fixers frequently face danger on behalf of outside journalists, who rely on them for local access.

Covering the conflict

Reporters on the ground in Gaza face a series of challenges, including frequent power outages and ongoing air strikes.

Viewers saw a glimpse of these challenges when NBC correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin hosted a Google+ hangout session from Gaza City. The screen went black twice during the broadcast as Mohyeldin lost power.

“Between the power cuts and the Israeli airstrike, that’s just a very small glimpse of what daily reality has become here in the Gaza strip,” Mohyeldin told viewers.

New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren told “The Sisterhood,” a blog for Jewish women, one of the most noticeable changes is a lot of female reporters covering the conflict.

When the sirens went off in Jerusalem today, I had a bit of bonding with a colleague who also has a young child — in her case, really a baby, just 1 year old, and her husband is also a journalist, which makes it more complicated. But its not like we’re gabbing about tampons and pedicures. …

Working in an Islamic place — similar to working in an Orthodox Jewish place — does make gender more relevant sometimes, like there are all-male spaces where you can’t go, but there are also all-female spaces where male colleagues couldn’t go. I think having women cover wars probably will lead to a little more coverage of how women fare during wars, and that seems like a good thing.

Slate’s is in Jerusalem on book leave and has resisted writing about the conflict.

We should be doing better because, much as I hate to say it, the harrowing accounts of burnt-out basements and baby shoes on each side of this conflict don’t constitute a conversation. Counting and photographing and tweeting injured children on each side isn’t dialogue. …

I am worried about our friends here who are being called up. I am worried about my friends here who are war correspondents. I am worried about terrified children in Gaza. I am also worried about how I will explain to my sons why we are staying, but I’m more worried about what I would tell them if we left. I am crazy-worried about my parents who live in the south, where 1400 rockets have been fired since January. I am worried about how this can possibly ever end if just tweeting about peace is an international act of aggression.

Capital style

The Associated Press issued a “correction” tweet Friday changing a reference to “Israel’s capital” to “Israel’s self-declared capital.”

As Politico pointed out, there’s only one line in the AP Stylebook on Jerusalem: “The city in Israel stands alone in dateline.”

AP spokesperson Paul Colford told Politco the AP had alternated between writing “capital” and “self-declared capital” in previous copy, but now describes the city as “claimed by both Israel and the Palestinians as a capital.”

While the AP is the keeper of the stylebook, it’s not the only news organization struggling with how to describe the city.  The New York Times in a story Friday referred to the city as one “which Israel claims as its capital despite objections from the city’s large Palestinian population and others throughout the Middle East.”

Earlier this year, President Barack Obama urged the Democratic Party to change the wording in its platform to label Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. The Democrats restored the language of the 2008 platform, which stated “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel” – a line that Democrats had tried to remove this time around.

The social media battle

The Israel Defense Force has flooded Twitter, YouTube and Facebook with updates since beginning airstrikes on the Gaza Strip on Wednesday. But why?

According to a Washington Post blog, the goal in giving the conflict a voice on social media is to seek not just support but participation from its followers.

The @IDFSpokesperson Twitter account, encouraging followers to show support for the strikes, tweeted Wednesday: “More than 12,000 rockets hit Israel in the past 12 years. RT if you think #Israel has the right to defend itself.” More than 5,500 people have retweeted it. On Facebook, a flier-style image with a similar message has been shared 18,000 times.

As Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman wrote, the IDF YouTube channel has almost 48,000 subscribers and 24.8 million video views. The channel includes videos of attacks, “as well as several videos intending to diffuse criticism by showing efforts to avoid civilian casualties.”

It remains to be seen whether this social media takeover is changing public perception, or just allowing those who side with IDF to broadcast their views on the internet.

While many have commented on IDF’s use of social media, blogger Laura Goldman sought out IDF spokesman Captain Eytan Buchman for an explanation.

Buchman, a Chicago native, explains the reasoning behind the IDF’s increased social media activity. “We learned from Operation Cast Lead in 2008 and 2009 that there were potential new audiences that we could target rather than the traditional media,” he said. “There is so much misinformation coming out of Gaza. Videos show a man be carried into an ambulance, but don’t show the same man walking out of the ambulance a few minutes later. Hamas falsely claimed to have hit an Israeli naval vessel. Social media allows everyone to see for themselves what is happening and make their own decisions.”

Murdoch’s mistake

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch spawned a firestorm when he tweeted about the media’s coverage of the conflict: “Why Is Jewish owned press so consistently anti-Israel in every crisis?”

The tweet presumes media organizations have Jewish owners and editors. It also presumed, writes Peter Beinart, that Jewish reporters and editors are making decisions based on their religion, not their role as journalists.

“The implication is that Jewish media owners do indeed let their Jewishness define their Israel coverage,” Beinart said.

Murdoch later backed away from the statement in another tweet:

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  • NateBowman

    More on the killing of journalists:
    “Using War as Cover to Target Journalists”

  • Anonymous

    Here is a child killed in building behind the headquarters of French media AFP which was bombed twice.

  • Anonymous

    Here are three journalists killed by the IDF who were in a car and not being used as a shield.

  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous

    Ms. Moos
    Thank you for answering.
    What you say is good in theory. And I am not sure what it implies, but in fact, you did not check what Mr. Buchman claimed. You allowed it to stand uncritically and thus, you lent credence to Mr. Buchman’s press release. Your own reply to him was basically a press release on how Poynter is supposed to work. To me, that’s not journalism.

    And, do you really think it appropriate to be on a first-name basis with someone whose claims you are supposed to scrutinize?

  • Anonymous

    Ms. Johnston and Ms. Moos:
    You start with:
    “Journalists have been wounded, censored and prevented from leaving the Gaza strip while covering five days of air strikes and bombings FROM BOTH SIDES of the Israel-Gaza conflict.”

    As far as I know, there is no air force in Gaza that could inflict air strikes on Israel. This forced equivalency is inaccurate.

    The link to the NYT article which is supposed to be back-up for the 22 journalists detained by Hamas makes no mention of the claim. Would it have been too much to find the original source for the claim? In the end, it was on a Haaretz blog and it SPECIFICALLY says that the report is unconfirmed so your dissemination of it as fact is not good journalism. Not to mention that it is the sole basis for your (again) false equivalency between the actions of the two sides. That is, even if one can equate prevention from leaving an area with being bombed or being killed or losing a limb.

  • Poynter


    Asking a spokesperson to keep us informed is similar to being on a press release mailing list or having credentials to attend briefings. It does not imply we won’t ask questions or do our own reporting, it simply means we want to be informed through official channels as well.


  • Anonymous

    Ms. Moos

    Are you really on a first-name basis with a spokesperson for the IDF?
    And, as a journalist, are you really asking a spokesperson to keep you posted and what he sees and does? (rather than finding out for yourself?)
    A journalist might be a little more skeptical of a spokesperson’s claims.

  • Anonymous

    Mr. Buchman
    In think your first paragraph needs some context here: you say that rockets were “aimed” at Israeli civilians and the segue into “Hamas rockets that were launched at Reuters personnel”, thus implying that Hamas intentionally targeted the Reuters personnel. The article to which you link merely states that a vehicle was hit by rocket fire, not that it was targeted. If you are going to make accusations, however veiled, please provide facts that back up the accusations.

    Similarly, your second link is broken, so please provide context for that assertion also.

    Thirdly, IDF’s to target precisely does not mean that it is not used indiscriminately. Especially when many (including Israeli veterans) have shown that Israel has had a ongoing policy of ethnic cleansing from its start.

    Or when it is a part of Likud’s platform that no Palestinian state ever exist.

    Or when a majority of Israeli Jews believe Israel is practicing apartheid in the West Bank and Gaza.

    Or when Israel itself helped spawn Hamas to begin with

    Or when settler attacks on Palestinians have been named terrorist attacks even by the US.

    Or when Israel has been shown to limit the calorie intake of Palestinians.

    Lastly, though Poynter does mention fairness in its guidelines, it does not mention balance. (You must be thinking of Fox News, whose invocation of this motto has been proven to be only words.) And I agree that balance should not be an issue. Facts and the truth often has a way of pointing out things one side or another does not want to hear

  • Poynter

    Hi, Eytan. Thanks for commenting. Our goal is to describe the coverage challenges facing journalists in Israel, Gaza and abroad as they try to make sense of these events for the people who rely on them for information. Please do keep us posted on what you see and do. You can reach me by email at jmoos@poynter.og as well. –Julie Moos, Director of Poynter Online

  • Eytan Buchman

    I am an IDF Spokesperson (actually mentioned above in the article) and I think that this article needs some context here. As perplexing as the lack of criticism there has been about rockets aimed at Israeli civilians, even more confusing is the lack of coverage of FPA condemnation of Hamas rockets that were launched at Reuters personnel earlier last week:

    Equally lacking is the condemnation regarding the cynical use of journalists as shields by terrorist organization. If anything, today’s targeting of the media center today, followed by an AP announcement ( that a terrorist there was killed, raises serious questions about Hamas and PIJ tactics.

    Finally, when the IDF is forced to target terrorist sites near civilians or journalists, we do everything we can do to warn them and reduce harm, including dropping leaflets, making phone calls and sending text messages. Even when forced to act, we use only the most precise weapons possible:

    I think that it is only fitting that a website devoted to fair and balanced journalism ensures that fair coverage is provided to all sides of the conflict.

    Eytan Buchman
    IDF Spokesperson