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7 Jan, 2024 11:40

Reporters without shame: Top ‘media rights’ organization ignores rampant killings of Gaza journalists

Reporters Without Borders’ annual report downplays dozens of deaths of media professionals in Israeli attacks
Reporters without shame: Top ‘media rights’ organization ignores rampant killings of Gaza journalists

At the end of 2023, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans Frontieres, RSF), the international organization ostensibly advocating for freedom of information, released its annual report. The paper massively downplays the widespread and deliberate targeting of Palestinian journalists in the Israel-Gaza war.

The report's announcement, titled, “Round-up: 45 journalists killed in the line of duty worldwide – a drop despite the tragedy in Gaza,” excludes most of the Palestinian journalists killed by Israel in 2023, particularly in the past few months. It claims 16 fewer journalists were killed worldwide in 2023 than in 2022. This doesn't reflect reality.

The report claims that (as of December 1, 2023), only 13 Palestinian journalists were killed while actively reporting, noting separately that 56 journalists were killed in Gaza, “if we include journalists killed in circumstances unproven to be related to their duties.”

Other sources put the overall number of Palestinian journalists killed in the enclave much higher. The UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported on December 1 that 73 journalists and media workers had been killed, citing to the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate (PJS).

While The Committee to Protect Journalists' (CPJ) December 20, 2023 numbers are lower (at least 61 Palestinian journalists killed since October 7), CPJ at least didn't disregard dozens of slain Palestinian journalists like RSF did.

In fact, in contrast to RSF's cheerful “things are much better for journalists than previous years” tone, CPJ emphasized that in the first 10 weeks of Israel's war on Gaza, more journalists have been killed than have ever been killed in a single country over an entire year.” It voiced its concern about, “an apparent pattern of targeting of journalists and their families by the Israeli military.”

It isn't clear how RSF discerns which circumstances were “unproven to be related” to the duties of slain Gazan journalists, nor who is “actively reporting” when Gaza is under relentless Israeli bombardment and suffers frequent internet cuts. In fact, given the nonstop Israeli bombing (and sniping) throughout the strip, it would be nearly impossible to discern whether journalists were reporting (including from their homes) at the time of their death.

However, in the methodology section near the end of its more detailed report, RSF notes it “logs a journalist’s death in its press freedom barometer when they are killed in the exercise of their duties or in connection with their status as a journalist.”

Many Palestinian journalists in Gaza have received death threats from officers in the Israeli army precisely due to their status as journalists. And many of those threatened have subsequently been killed, along with family members, when Israeli airstrikes targeted their homes or places of shelter.

We also have the precedent in prior wars (in 2009, 2012, 2014, and 2021) of Israel bombing Gazan media buildings (including one I was in in 2009) with varying severity, damaging and finally destroying two major media buildings in 2021. This is clearly intended to stop the flow of reports from Gaza under Israeli bombs, and so is the killing of journalists.

On December 15, the Palestinian Journalists' Syndicate criticized the RSF report, going as far as accusing RSF of complicity with Israel's war crimes against Palestinian journalists through whitewashing.

This is the same PJS whose statistics the UN's OCHA cites, statistics which PJS says are “accurate and based on professional and legal documentation that follows the highest standards in documenting crimes against journalists.” This documentation includes journalists who Israeli airstrikes targeted in their homes, killed precisely because they are journalists.

In response, RSF claimed it, “did not yet have sufficient evidence or indications,” to state that any more than 14 journalists in the Gaza Strip (as of December 23, the date of its response) “had been killed in the course of their work or because of it.”

RSF called the PJS accusations “inane,” complaining that they “damage our organisation’s image,” and chastised the PSJ to not “impugn our motives,” or “quarrel” over numbers. “Quarreling over numbers” is a pretty cavalier objection from an organization espousing concern over journalists being targeted.

At least three journalists were shot dead, at least three killed by an Israeli airstrike on media outlets in central Gaza City, and many more were killed by Israeli airstrikes on “safe” areas – areas south of Wadi Gaza, which Israel had commanded civilians to flee to for their “safety.” In spite of this command, Israeli bombings continued all over the strip, including all the way south to Rafah.

Still many more – in Gaza City, as well as to the north and to the south of it – were killed at home with their families, including one journalist in Khan Younis, killed along with 11 members of his family when an Israeli airstrike targeted his home on November 2. On November 23, a journalist was killed in an Israeli airstrike on his home in Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, along with 20 family members.

The Cradle reported that, “The Israeli army sent a letter to legacy news outlets, Reuters and AFP.” The letter said, “The [Israeli Army] is targeting all Hamas military activity throughout Gaza. Under these circumstances, we cannot guarantee your employees' safety.”

One Israeli bombing of a journalist's home on November 7 killed him and 42 family members. Like many of his slain colleagues, he was a journalist for Palestinian Authority-run Wafa news. Many of the other murdered journalists worked for: Palestinian Authority-run Palestine TV, independent news agencies, local TV and radio programs, and larger outlets like al Jazeera. Others worked with Hamas-affiliated media and radio. Still others were freelancers.

On November 5, PJS reported that at least 20 of the journalists killed (since October 7) “were intentionally targeted by strikes on their homes or during their work covering Israel’s attacks.” This tally is already greater than RSF's reported total of 13 journalists killed at work or because of their work, even though the RSF report covers a period of almost a month more.

Israel threatens journalists, kills family members

Many Gaza journalists report being threatened by the Israeli army. CPJ noted it is “deeply alarmed by the pattern of journalists in Gaza reporting receiving threats, and subsequently, their family members being killed.”

One such incident followed a threat to Al-Jazeera Arabic reporter Anas Al-Sharif. CPJ noted he had received multiple phone calls from officers in the Israeli army instructing him to cease coverage and leave northern Gaza. Additionally, he received voice notes on WhatsApp disclosing his location. His 90-year-old father was killed on December 11 by an Israeli airstrike on their home in the Jabalia refugee camp.

On November 13, CPJ noted, “eight family members of photojournalist Yasser Qudih were killed when their house in southern Gaza was struck by four missiles. Qudih survived the attack.”

On October 25, an Israel airstrike on the Nuseirat refugee camp in the center of Gaza killed the wife, son, daughter, and grandson of Al-Jazeera’s bureau chief for Gaza, Wael Al Dahdouh.

The popular young independent journalist, Motaz Azaiza, reported receiving multiple threats from anonymous numbers urging him to cease his coverage, CPJ reported, noting that another Al-Jazeera correspondent, Youmna El-Sayed, said her husband received a threatening phone call from a man who identified himself as a member of the IDF and told the family “to leave or die.”

RSF bias: Not only in Palestine

Whereas RSF only reluctantly, as an afterthought, mentioned Palestinian journalists killed in “circumstances unproven to be related to their duties,” in a 2021 report on Syria, it stated, “at least 300 professional and non-professional journalists have been killed while covering artillery bombardments and airstrikes or murdered by the various parties to the conflict,” since 2011, going on to say, “this figure could in reality be even higher.”

It cited a report by the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) claiming the number could be up to 700. While endorsing these numbers, the RSF also gave a caveat, albeit a much meeker one than the one about Gaza journalists: “Confirming such estimates is not currently possible because of the difficulty of accessing information.”

Aside from reporting numbers it could not confirm, RSF cited a body in no way impartial or credible. As an investigative article noted, the SNHR is “based in Qatar... funded by foreign governments and staffed by top opposition leaders,” and “has openly clamored for Western military intervention.”

In 2017, Stephen Lendman wrote of RSF's attempt to shut down a panel sponsored by the Swiss Press Club in which British journalist Vanessa Beeley would be participating. “An organization that defends freedom of information is asking me to censor a press conference,” the club's executive director Guy Mettan said at the time. He refused to cancel the event.

RSF's 2023 roundup also didn't include two Russian journalists killed this year, one by a Ukrainian cluster bomb strike and the other by a Ukrainian drone attack (targeting journalists).

Sputnik pursued the matter and reported that RSF, “refused to give any comments to Sputnik” citing “editorial policy.”

Journalist Christelle Neant likewise noted RSF's glaring omission of the Russian journalists. She wrote about the body's funding from various governments, and more notably from regime change agencies: the Open Society foundation, The Ford Foundation, and the National Endowment for Democracy, funded by the US Congress.

RSF's notorious funders explain why it cherry picks or inflates its reports. The borderless organization has lines it won't cross. It reports a grain of truth but otherwise whitewashes the crimes of Israel and Washington.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.