Open letter calls for enhanced coverage of Israel-Hamas conflict, say journalists

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The open letter has asked that historical context of the conflict between Israel and Palestine is provided when referencing the October 7 attack.

“The conflict did not start on October 7, and it is the media’s responsibility to ensure audiences are fully informed,” it reads.

Palestinians look for survivors after an Israeli strike on the Gaza Strip in Rafah, November 23.Credit: AP

Also among requests were media transparency about journalists who have been on all-expenses-paid trips to Israel organised by pro-Israeli government groups; adhering to truth over “both-sidesism”; and centring reporting on human tragedies that occur during the conflict.

“It is essential for audience transparency that reports include disclosures of a journalist’s participation in all-expenses-paid trips to Israel,” the letter reads. “We also urge all Australian journalists from hereon to reject offers of paid trips to the Middle East.”

It also asked for increased scrutiny when using Israeli government or military sources to shape coverage.

“The Israeli government’s version of events should never be reported verbatim without context or fact-checking,” it said. “This is our basic responsibility as journalists.”

The letter’s organisers said it was not a criticism of any single newsroom, rather a call for the most stringent standards to be applied when covering one of the most important stories many of them will report on.

“It is our duty as journalists to hold the powerful to account, to deliver truth and full context to our audiences and to do so courageously, without fear of political intimidation,” the letter reads.

“It is crucial that, in their coverage of this war, Australian newsrooms represent the multicultural communities they serve, and ensure that scrutiny of state and non-state parties to the conflict does not stigmatise any ethnic or religious communities.”

So far, 53 journalists have died covering the conflict, including 46 Palestinians, three Lebanese and four Israelis.

A similar letter was penned by journalists across a diverse group of American news outlets early this month. As of November 13, 1200 journalists had signed the letter, with 30 asking for their signatures to be removed citing fear of reprisal from their employers.

A statement from the executive editor of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, Tory Maguire, and editors of the mastheads said any newsroom staff who had signed the letter would be unable to participate in any reporting or production relating to the war going forward.

“We will continue to uphold the mastheads’ social media policy,” the statement said. “This will have no impact on our capacity to continue to provide extensive quality journalism on this topic.”

About 20 staff and contributors to Nine Publishing signed the letter.

Responding to the statement by Nine’s editors, media director for the MEAA, Cassie Derrick said working journalists have a right to stand up for their ethical code and call for accurate, public-interest reporting.

“Any pressure or intimidation from managers to prevent workers from doing this, including removing them from relevant stories, is an overreach and an attack on both journalists’ rights and the public’s right to know.”

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