[News] Journalists in Australia Censured for Demanding Better Coverage of Israel and Palestine

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu May 27 20:56:50 EDT 2021


https://theintercept.com/2021/05/27/israel-palestine-australia-journalists/
Journalists
in Australia Censured for Demanding Better Coverage of Israel and Palestine
Akela Lacy - May 27, 2021
------------------------------

*Journalists in Australia* are facing backlash after asking their newsrooms
to improve coverage of Israel and Palestine.

Five journalists in Australia published an open letter
<https://dobetteronpalestine.com/> on May 14 calling on news outlets to “do
better” coverage of Israel and Palestine by actively including Palestinian
perspectives in coverage and refraining from “both-siderism that equates
the victims of a military occupation with its instigators.” More than 720
journalists and media staffers have since signed the letter criticizing
coverage of the fighting
<https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/gaza-truce-between-israel-hamas-begins-mediated-by-egypt-2021-05-20/>
between Israel and Hamas. Israel has killed over 240 Palestinians, 66 of
them children, and has left parts of Gaza completely destroyed, including a
tower that housed offices for the Associated Press and Al Jazeera, among
other media and nongovernmental organizations. Hamas, meanwhile, has killed
12 Israelis, including two children.

Already some of those journalists have faced consequences. At least a dozen
staffers at two of Australia’s largest public broadcasting corporations,
Special Broadcasting Service and Australian Broadcasting Corporation, were
asked by management to remove their signatures from the letter, according
to letter organizers and the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance, an
Australian media union. Several staffers at both SBS and ABC said they were
also told that their contracts might not be renewed.

“The people who are being particularly pressured are younger journalists,
and often people of color, and people who are from an Arab background,”
said Antony Loewenstein, a journalist based in Sydney, Australia, and
previously in East Jerusalem who helped organize the letter. “There’s not a
suspicion of Jewish journalists doing their job, whereas there is for Arab
journalists,” added Loewenstein, who is Australian and Jewish.

“There’s not a suspicion of Jewish journalists doing their job, whereas
there is for Arab journalists.”

“We recognise a growing dissatisfaction, both in this country and
elsewhere, with the media’s treatment of Palestine,” the authors of the
Australian letter wrote. “Many of us are seeking change but lack sufficient
power in our organisations to push back against the status quo. We believe
that the coverage of Palestine must be improved, that it should no longer
prioritise the same discredited spokespeople and tired narratives, and that
new voices are urgently needed.”

The authors asked that newsrooms “consciously and deliberately make space
for Palestinian perspectives” and avoid “frameworks that rely on passive
formulation and weasel words (clashes, etc) to obscure the reality of a
violence disproportionately endured by Palestinians.” Authors also asked
that employers respect the rights of journalists and other staff “to
publicly and openly express personal solidarity with the Palestinian cause
without penalty in their professional lives.”

The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance contacted SBS on Friday after
hearing reports from journalists who were pressured to remove their names
from the letter. “It is a principle of freedom of speech that journalists
have a right to express views about their profession and the industry.
Signing an open letter of this type is simply choosing to take part in a
legitimate discussion about journalism and the media,” MEAA said in a
statement
<https://www.meaa.org/mediaroom/statement-on-freedom-of-expression/>
Friday. The union said it had advised SBS “that any disciplinary action
resulting from this expression of journalistic freedom will be strongly
resisted by MEAA, and are seeking an urgent clarification of the
broadcaster’s position.”

Reached for comment, MEAA said it was aware of isolated incidents of ABC
management contacting staffers who had signed the letter. “There has been
no formal disciplinary action taken against any staff warranting further
official intervention by the union at this stage,” MEAA communications
director Mark Phillips said. “However, our position would be the same
should management of any media outlet, commercial or government owned,
threaten journalists with disciplinary action for signing the letter.” The
union was not aware of incidents where people at SBS or ABC had been told
their contracts might not be renewed but acknowledged that different people
might interpret a stern call from management in different ways.

Staffers at the Guardian Australia represented by MEAA also issued a
statement
<https://twitter.com/gingerandhoney/status/1395622023372541952?s=20> Friday
standing in support with colleagues at SBS who had faced backlash for
signing the letter. “Guardian Australia MEAA members were appalled to hear
reports this week that staff members at SBS have been pressured to remove
their signatures from an open letter urging balanced coverage of
Palestinian perspectives in the current Middle East conflict,” they wrote.
“Journalists are routinely subjected to pressure and intimidation regarding
support for Palestine. This intimidation directly conflicts with the media
code of ethics, as it prevents journalists from exercising their right to
express a political identity that is distinct from their employer without
penalty in their working lives. As union members, we oppose attempts to
intimidate or discipline any journalists for engaging in public discourse.”

Letter organizers sought to position the “culture of silence” in media
around coverage of Israel and Palestine as both a class and workplace
issue, said one person who helped to organize it and requested anonymity
for fear of retaliation. Many journalists don’t think their outlets cover
the region in a factual or balanced way, they said, adding that “media
companies have consistently, over decades, bowed to massive external
pressure to skew their reporting in this way.”

“There’s a ton of fear in the industry and that is a workplace issue as
much as anything.”

The nature of the issue, they explained, “makes it a matter on which there
can be class solidarity and, we hope, collective workplace action.” It’s
not a secret within the industry “that if you push back on the way you are
directed to cover this issue, or you speak in public in a way that shows
you see Palestinians as victims of a colonial occupation, you can and will
likely be disciplined by your employer, subjected to a barrage of targeted
complaints by external parties, and possibly sacked. There’s a ton of fear
in the industry and that is a workplace issue as much as anything. Strength
in numbers seems to me to be the only possible way through that.”

SBS confirmed to The Guardian
<https://www.theguardian.com/media/2021/may/21/youre-a-mate-afrs-phil-coorey-steamed-up-over-gas-power>
on Friday that it had spoken to employees who signed the statement but
denied that anyone was asked to remove their name. A spokesperson for the
company said no disciplinary action had been “taken or proposed” with
respect to the letter. “SBS is a publicly funded national broadcaster which
must be, and be seen to be, objective and impartial,” the spokesperson
said. “SBS had informal conversations with employees to remind them of
their obligations to be balanced and impartial in all their editorial
output, and to consider public perceptions of their impartiality.”

MEAA later posted an update saying that after the union reached out to SBS,
the company “has since confirmed that no disciplinary action will be taken
against SBS staff who signed the open letter.”

Reached for comment, SBS Head of Corporate Communications Paul de Leon sent
the same statement to The Intercept. “No individuals were directed to
remove their names from the open letter, nor has there been any
disciplinary action taken or proposed in relation to this matter.” ABC did
not respond to a request for comment.

“We know that it’s unequivocally false that that’s not what happened,” said
Jennine Khalik, a content creator based in Sydney who helped to organize
the letter. Khalik’s parents are Palestinian refugees. She was a journalist
for eight years and previously worked at ABC. “They are trying to protect
their name.”

It’s common practice for journalists in Australia to take free trips to
Israel paid for by Israel lobby groups. SBS Managing Director James Taylor,
for example, took a free trip to Israel paid for by the New South Wales
Jewish Board of Deputies, a powerful lobbying group, in 2019.

SBS board member Nyunggai Warren Mundine tweeted
<https://twitter.com/nyunggai/status/1393066020848345089?s=20> numerous
times <https://twitter.com/nyunggai/status/1392785910698106884?s=20> during
the 11 days of attacks by Israel on Gaza, writing “#IStandWithIsrael
against the Hamas terrorist.” Mundine also retweeted pro-Israel posts from
the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.

Asked if Taylor’s trip or Mundine’s tweets conflicted with SBS “obligations
to be balanced and impartial,” or whether SBS contacted either person as it
had staffers who signed the Gaza letter, SBS’s de Leon said the Israel
study mission was attended by media professionals from many Australian
outlets and “enabled representatives to gain a deeper understanding of the
region, hear a range of diverse perspectives first-hand, and engage with
peers in the media.” The company “takes great care to ensure that our
editorial output is impartial and balanced, reporting on all perspectives
in line with the SBS Codes of Practice. Whether or not these Code
provisions have been breached is assessed against the relevant content,” de
Leon said.

“There’s clearly a culture that’s sympathetic to Israel,” said Khalik.
“Being pulled aside for [signing a letter] when the culture is so
sympathetic to Israel, it’s threatening. You can go on junkets, and you can
tweet whatever you want about standing with Israel, and you can skew
stories without consequences. It was clear that those conversations [with
management] would impact their time there.”

Reporters in other countries are facing similar backlash. Canadian
journalists circulated a similar open letter on the same day. Several
signatories were reprimanded by management or completely taken off coverage
of the region, The Intercept reported
<https://theintercept.com/2021/05/20/israel-palestine-canadian-journalists-letter/>.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation sent an email to staff Friday
addressing the letter as a “conflict of interest” and advising that
journalists on staff who signed it would be taken off coverage of the
region.

CBC staff also received an email last week reminding them of CBC guidelines
not to use the word “Palestine” in coverage. “Hey gang, Just a reminder –
if you’re doing any reporting on the conflict in the Middle East, please be
sure to read our Middle East glossary in the language guide. In particular,
I’m seeing Palestine in some of our communication and rough draft,” CBC
News Toronto Executive Producer Laura Green wrote. “We do not use Palestine
to refer to the West Bank or Gaza. It’s ok to use clips from protesters
saying it but we should not, as there is no modern country of Palestine.”
Green added that it is good practice to “avoid using Palestine colloquially
in our own exchanges,” as to reduce the risk that someone might
“accidentally write or say it in something that is published or
broadcast.” The email also included CBC guidelines that advised writing
“Palestinian militants in Gaza” instead of “Hamas,” unless referring to an
action claimed by the group.

CBC said that journalists who signed the letter “have taken a public stand
on this story which created the perception of a conflict of interest among
some members of our audience” and that the company was “ensuring editorial
distance between signatories and our daily coverage for the near future.”
But “no one is being disciplined for signing the letter,” and no stories
are being dropped,” CBC Head of Public Affairs Chuck Thompson said. “Our
style guide reflects the fact that, although there is an establishment
movement as part of a two-state peace agreement with Israel, there is at
present no modern country of Palestine and our recommendation is to use
Palestinian territories. That said, we quote people who talk about
Palestine and do interviews about books with Palestine in the title.”

In the U.S., the Associated Press fired news associate Emily Wilder for
what the global press giant
<https://theintercept.com/2021/05/25/emily-wilder-firing-ap-right-wing/>
said were “violations of AP’s social media policy.” Wilder had been the
target of a conservative smear campaign
<https://theintercept.com/2021/05/24/ap-associated-press-emily-wilder/>
over her activism in college in support of Palestinian rights. As
Washington Post media columnist Erik Wemple wrote
<https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/05/25/how-ap-wronged-emily-wilder/>
Tuesday, the AP had previously asked Wilder to remove the phrase “Black
Lives Matter” from her bio on Twitter.
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