As a Canadian living abroad, I make sure to keep up with my news from the homeland. Every morning, along with my BBC and CNN, I open my CTV app on my iPhone and scroll through the headlines, usually picking up on the stories that only Canadian news is covering. As I did my routine browse yesterday I saw the expected headlines for international affairs: Ebola, Ukraine, and Gaza. As I read more carefully however I noticed a particular framing of an article on Gaza that caught me off guard. As the world is now hearing every day, hundreds of civilians are being killed in Gaza with around 60 UN schools having been shelled, Israel accusing Hamas of storing weapons there and using human shields, and Hamas denying it. The statistics of civilian casualties in Palestine have now soared over 1700, while Israel has seen the loss of reportedly 63 soldiers. The media has no doubt picked up these staggering numbers, which is why it struck me to see an article headlined ‘Israeli soldier believed captured by Hamas declared dead’. Along with the headline was a picture of the fallen soldier, followed by an extensive article on the soldier, his family, and the out-pour of support and prayer in commemoration of his life. Only at the bottom of the article was there given the statistic of Palestinians killed and injured thus far in the conflict.
Firstly, let me say as an academic, a former development worker, and as a writer, I fully believe in journalistic standards of objectivity and impartiality. I highly advocate in telling two sides of a story, and even though journalism is not my profession, I think it’s extremely important to continually educate ourselves and critically evaluate the information we receive on just about any global issue. These are qualities that I would also hope extend to professional journalists and news organizations. I was appalled however at CTV’s blatant bias presented in this article and the insensitivity it showed to Palestinian families losing children, brothers, wives, and friends every day by not identifying them and showing them the same respect on the news bulletin. I think it is fully acceptable to report on the loss of a human life and to show condolences, but every human life has value, and if you intend on reporting one, I would not only expect, but demand you also report the others. How on earth could CTV publish over 1700 obituaries do you ask? Who knows, but that’s the question they should’ve asked when they first hit ‘Publish’.
The article spoke to me in a broader sense about journalistic values. Recently I conducted research on conflict reporting and ‘journalism of attachment’. When former BBC correspondent Martin Bell coined the term after Kosovo, he felt that reporting both sides dispassionately wasn’t right: one side was getting pummeled by the other and he felt the responsibility to shed light on it. Through my interviews with reporters today, however, this is not a reconciled issue, and many people I spoke with took issue with the idea of taking sides. Some of these journalists are currently in Gaza reporting on the continual tragedies of warfare in what they know to be the fairest way possible, and yet these journalists also take the brunt of media criticism, being accused of bias through social media. From an outsider’s perspective, I can’t see how reporting the facts and casualties is in any way bias, as long as you treat the ones on the other side of the table with the same respect.
Is it possible then that the media is shaping international public opinion of this war? Yes, absolutely, and this is likely the case. Between issues of political allies and religion, this never-ending conflict tears public opinion, but what the media must do is not tear their audience and respect their role as a trustworthy, ethical news establishment. And so, CTV, I challenge you to publish more obituary-style articles. I want to know about who the world lost, I want to grieve with the families, but next time, please don’t tell me where they’re from and let’s keep the media as peaceful as we hope these countries to be.
Link to article (note that the photo shown of the fallen soldier was the only image in the mobile version at the top of the page):