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Why journalists are failing to do their jobs reporting Gaza

Former Age Editor Michael Gawenda explains the way the media works - or fails to work - in reporting the Israel-Hamas War.
Michael Gawenda
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Man in press vest

Since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, more than 100 journalists and media workers have been killed (Noam Galai/Getty Images).

Published: 27 March 2024

Last updated: 28 March 2024

Since the war between Israel and Hamas began on October 7, hundreds of foreign journalists from across the world, including journalists and film crews from Japan and China and Russia, have filed countless news stories, analysis pieces, filmed interviews with suffering Palestinian women and children and above all, an endless stream of the most heart-rending videos of the daily carnage in Gaza.

These hundreds of journalists are based in Israel from where they do their reporting. Their film crews are based in Israel. Some of the big US television networks have teams of 20 or more—reporters, camera operators, sound recordists— producing the network news coverage of Gaza. They are all based in Israel.

There are no foreign journalists in Gaza. The videos of carnage are taken by Gazans. A lot of the videos shown on screens across the world have been taken from social media. Some videos have been filmed by local journalists in Gaza and they are paid by the foreign media companies for it.

All the reports of what is happening in Gaza come from local journalists employed by the foreign media companies. Some of these journalists have proven to be members of Hamas. All of them do their journalism at the pleasure of Hamas. Was their reporting to displease Hamas, they would be forced out of journalism. One way or another.

Some of the local journalists have been killed by Israeli air strikes. The number is disputed. It is even in dispute how many of them were journalists rather that Hamas operatives and how many were killed doing journalism. The deaths of journalists covering a war is a war crime. But I do not believe there is any credible evidence that shows Israeli pilots deliberately targeted journalists.

Why am I writing about this, why does it matter when the people of Gaza are suffering so unthinkably, when so many women and children are being killed by the Israeli air strikes that have reduced much of Gaza to rubble?

Foreign journalists do not really know whether the news they are reporting out of Gaza is anywhere near factually accurate.

It matters because the hundreds of foreign journalists and film crews and international affairs journalists, in effect, do not want their audiences to know that they have only limited knowledge of what is happening in Gaza.

In fact, they hardly know anything that is based on their own first-hand reporting. They are all based in Israel, in Jerusalem in the main, which in the context of this war, is a long way from Gaza.

 On top of that, the vast majority do not speak Hebrew or Arabic. As a result, most of them, even those who are based in Israel and are not visiting `firemen’ who have flown in to cover a `hot’ story about which they have read a bit on the flight to Tel Aviv, know few non-English speaking Israelis or Palestinians.  As a result, in their reporting, Israel and Palestine, Israelis and Palestinians, exist only as actors in a bitter, century long, seemingly forever conflict.

How many of the hundreds of foreign journalists have told their readers and their television audiences anything about this, about how their lack of Hebrew and Arabic restricts their reporting?

Since October 7, I have written a fair bit about how the ethical standards that I thought most mainstream journalists had signed on to are being discarded, thrown out with yesterday’s news.

The many petitions and group letters that have circulated since October 7, signed and in some cases, instigated by journalists, with the support of the MEAA, the journalist’s union, in essence, call for new ethical standards in journalism. No longer was there to be a commitment to fairness, factual accuracy, open-mindedness, to journalism that was not agenda driven, that was in essence, a search for truth no matter how elusive and impossible to find the truth may be.

 Instead, according to the letter signers and petition signers—the many thousands of them in the US, Canada and Australia—journalists were to be committed to social justice , to supporting the oppressed against the oppressors, to  preferencing the voices of the oppressed― Palestinians  which sometimes includes Hamas—over the voices of the oppressors― Israelis and their Jewish supporters and lobbyists in the US and Canada and Australia. It was okay—more than okay—for journalists to be activists for a cause.

I have written virtually nothing about the coverage of the war basically because I think the short-comings of the journalism—its shallowness, its sameness, its cliché-ridden commentary and analysis―are self-evident.

What is not self-evident because journalists are not prepared to talk about it, is that they do not really know whether the news they are reporting out of Gaza is anywhere near factually accurate. They do not really know what is happening because they are not there and they are relying on statements coming from Hamas or from local journalists who have to work by rules determined by Hamas.  In truth, they cannot vouch for accuracy of their reporting and commentary, and they cannot check facts: they really don’t know what is true and what is false.

Local reporters in Gaza are simply forbidden by Hamas to practice journalism, to ask difficult questions. 

And yet the group letter writers and petition signers ignore all of this and instead, insist that Hamas’s version of the truth of what is happening in Gaza—the number of civilians killed and wounded by the IDF, the brutal treatment by the IDF of innocent Palestinians, the deliberate killing by the IDF of children and women, the deliberate humanitarian crisis  in Gaza engineered by Israel ― is essentially to be believed. 

Perhaps it is accurate, this stuff coming from Hamas but here are some questions that any journalist with even a modicum of experience and with an open mind would want the leaders of Hamas to answer, questions that simply have not been asked:

  • Is it true that you deliberately hide fighters and weapons in schools and hospitals and mosques? If it is true, why do that?
  • Why do you have your missile batteries located in the densest urban areas of Gaza?
  • Why, as the rulers of Gaza, did you not provide the residents of Gaza with bomb shelters to protect the innocents against Israeli airstrikes—you surely could have used some of the billions of dollars in aid for that purpose?
  • Why are you holding old people and children hostage? Is that not a war crime?
  • How many of the people killed in the war in Gaza were Hamas fighters? How do you arrive at a daily death toll, distinguishing so quickly between fighters and civilians?
  • What is the outcome you want from this war? What outcome could end it?

As far as I can tell these questions, rudimentary as they are, have not been asked of Hamas by the local reporters in Gaza. They are simply forbidden by Hamas to practice journalism, to ask difficult questions. 

Nor have these difficult questions been asked by the foreign reporters of the Hamas leadership in Qatar who have given any number of soft ‘interviews’ to Al Jazeera. Perhaps the Hamas officials in Qatar have refused to give interviews that answer these questions. If so, the journalists should say so and they should publish and broadcast the questions that have gone unanswered.

If the journalists have not asked these questions, then the only possible explanations I can think of is that the foreign reporters lack the courage to confront Hamas or that they think trying to force Hamas to be accountable for what it does is not important. Either way, this is a major reporting failure.

I think journalism is in crisis. I think more and more people believe that the mainstream media traffics in fake news.  With social media awash with conspiracy theories and lies and malign fantasies, with Tik Tok the main news source for millions of young people, there is a desperate need for journalism that is fair, factually accurate and honest. Dispassionate but not heartless.

This is not the sort of journalism that the petition and group letter signers are urging on those covering the war in Gaza. The line between the ethics of the social justice warriors on social media and the ethics of journalists in the mainstream media is becoming blurred. That is disastrous for journalism and journalists. And not to be too pompous, for liberal democracy as well.

About the author

Michael Gawenda

Michael Gawenda is one of Australia’s best-known journalists and authors. In a career spanning more than four decades, Michael has been a political reporter, foreign correspondent in London and Washington, and was editor and editor in chief of The Age from 1997 to 2004. He has won numerous journalism awards including three Walkley awards.


  • Avatar of Maher Mughrabi

    Maher Mughrabi13 April at 11:15 pm

    April 1 is, they tell me, All Fools’ Day.

  • Avatar of David Schulberg

    David Schulberg1 April at 10:50 am

    Mughrabi’s bloviations toss us back to a piece he wrote ten years ago for Haaretz. In that article Mughrabi pushes back on needing to condemn Hamas, giving the impression he has done his duty in genuinely criticising Hamas by never having “shied away from scrutiny of Hamas”.

    The trouble is that the majority of the Palestinian people today support Hamas and who’s to say that Mughrabi doesn’t deep down also empathise with them, but of course cannot say so because he would denigrate his profession as a journalist. In his role as a journalist his employer has already seen fit to constrain him because of Mughrabi’s activist tendencies which have tainted his journalistic integrity.

    Mughrabi also holds up the MEAA as having some kind of moral authority. In November 2023, Szego resigned from the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) because of that union’s endorsement of an open letter to Australian media outlets, which condemned the Australian Government for “Israel’s genocidal assault on Gaza”, stated that “the conflict did not start on October 7”, and demanded that media companies should respect the right of journalists to “publicly and openly express personal solidarity with the Palestinian cause without penalty in their professional lives”. Szego rightfully called the letter “an Orwellian exercise in calling for ‘truth’ while peddling gross distortions thereof”.

  • Avatar of Rosanne Stein

    Rosanne Stein1 April at 04:23 am

    I have been reading the news since Oct 7 and not once has a journalist or broadcaster stated that they attempted but failed to interview Hamas. Neither have I ever read that the information is second habd, from a local Gazan. All Gazans are somehow related or friends with Hamas. Sorry but this kind of news does not stand in the court of public opinion!

  • Avatar of Lara Goodridge

    Lara Goodridge31 March at 11:06 am

    Such an important article! I hope that every journalist who has so confidently parroted Hamas claims reads this article. To me it is as obvious as believing what Putin or Trump says. As in, NOT ONE WORD.

    And yet millions of Americans believed the election was stolen… so go figure.

  • Avatar of Maher Mughrabi

    Maher Mughrabi29 March at 07:52 am

    To respond to Mr Gawenda: I have a great deal to say about many of the points he has raised. However I had assumed that a certain brevity would be required in the comments section in order to ensure publication (the print journalist in me).

    There was a question to be asked here, and I asked it. Readers can judge for themselves the adequacy or otherwise of Mr Gawenda’s response. As for my response, it will come – as Israeli officials like to say – at a time and place of my choosing. I am not a columnist for The Jewish Independent and I don’t see why it should get my insights and analysis gratis.

    In the interim, it might be worth people revisiting a piece I wrote for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz: https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/2014-06-23/ty-article/.premium/beinart-think-before-you-speak/0000017f-db6a-db22-a17f-fffb9adb0000?_amp=true

  • Avatar of Michael Gawenda

    Michael Gawenda28 March at 10:20 am

    I want to respond to the comments by Maher Mughrabi.
    It is true that journalists have not been able to get permission from Israel to enter Gaza. And that includes Israeli journalists. There have been Israeli reporters taken into Gaza by the IDF but their reporting has been severely restricted. It is a bit like the reporting the American reporters — and a couple of Australian reporters -who were embedded with the US forces during the Iraq war.
    Now would Israel refuse journalists entry to Gaza? I think the reason is obvious. No-one, not the IDF and certainly not Hamas could even remotely guarantee their safety. Now just imagine the reaction if Israel had allowed journalist in and in the airstrikes and in the ground war, journalists had been killed or seriously wounded. Imagine the outrage, the accusations that Israeli was deliberately murdering journalists.

    But regardless of this, the points I was making stand. The main point I was making was that the journalists covering the war never inform their readers that much of what they are reporting cannot be verified. They do not tell us the limits of what they can know. They do not tell us why the local journalists cannot ask Hamas fundamental questions, the questions I set out in my piece. Nor do the foreign journalists ask these questions of the Hamas political leadership in Qatar. Why not? Maher has nothing to say about any of this.

    As for believing Hamas I would say too things. Hundreds of journalists around the world signed a letter in 2021 urging journalists to preference Palestinian voices, the voices of the victims over the voices of the victimisers. And we know who the victimisers and their supporters are. Many Palestinians and their supporters in Australia regard Hamas officials as the main Palestinian voices for the Palestinian people in this war. I assume journalists who signed those letters believe they should be given preference? Believed?

    The second thing to say is that it is simply absurd to argue that statements by Hamas could be subjected to the same sort of journalistic interrogation as statements by Israeli officials. How are the Hamas statements to be interrogated? By interview? By leaks? How? On the other hand, literally hundreds of journalists can interrogate and investigate statements by Israel officials and by the IDF. Many of the fiercest interrogators are Israeli journalists. Many have seriously questioned statements– to say the least- by Israeli officials. It is a false equivalence that Maher is proposing.

    And we must never forget the Al-Ahi Hospital bombing in which an Israeli missile struck the hospital killing 500 people and wounding many more. There were riots in some Arab countries. people were hurt. Except of course that it did not happen. None of it happened. It was made up by Hamas. And yet Google the hospital and you will be directed to stories about the airstrike and the 500 deaths. Made up stuff has real world consequences and what’s more, lives on the internet forever. Did any journalist try and ask Hamas officials why they had made up this horrifying the story? I doubt it.

    None of this is to say that the horrors of the war, the suffering of the Palestinian people, the deaths of thousands of men women and children is anything but real and devastating and heartbreaking. None to it.

  • Avatar of Larry Stillman

    Larry Stillman28 March at 09:21 am

    This is really low. You more or less imply that local journalists who remain (Gazans) are Hamas operatives. You clearly haven’t been reading their reporting. You appear to blame them for their deaths.

    You don’t appear to know that foreign journalists have been trying to get into Gaza, but are prevented. You imply that all Al-Jazeera journalists are liars and propagandists and that journalists in general, give the Hamas leadership in Qatar the soft touch. Are we reading the same newspapers and online sources? you also appear to claim that foreign journalists don’t have Arabic language skills — given that many journalists are Arabic-speaking, you appear to be off here. And of course, you fail to mention that the percentage of Israelis (and I assume many journalists) to have at least passive fluency in Palestinian Arabic and Fusha (you know what that is?), is quite low. And then, surprise! many Palestinian journals, have, it appear high level English, certainly better than some of the Israelis I have heard.

    You appear to blame journalists for their own deaths, when it is very clear that there have been ‘accidental’ deaths and kidnappings, and then, that all-embracing collateral damage from Israeli bombing.

    You criticise Hamas tactics while entering into a query free zone of questioning Israel’s disproportionate response in one of the world’s most populated areas — encircled and controlled by Israel for decades, and you say nothing about the use of starvation and famine as a war tactic.

    There is one way to solve this. Your should go on a live panel with one of the English speaking Palestinian journalists in Gaza, even one who works for the BBC, and put forward your propositions. Let him or her respond to your assertions. Alternatively, put you on a panel with one of the area reporters from the NYT (which is paying for its sins), the WaPo, the Guardian, or the BBC. I know who would win, hands downs.


  • Avatar of Maher Mughrabi

    Maher Mughrabi27 March at 05:47 pm

    Who is preventing foreign journalists from getting into Gaza, Michael? How is this question not addressed at any point in your diatribe, one you have in fact trotted out several times prior to October 7?

    The open letter which you so frequently assail refers to this prevention of access in its very first line. The MEAA has also issued a release on this issue. The open letter also, contra your persistent mischaracterisation, does not ask for Hamas to “essentially … be believed”. It asks for equal rigour to be applied in assessing the claims of two sides in a conflict (shock, horror).

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