‘War on Gaza’ and ‘Israel at war’, two statements on the screens of two news channels, the Arabic Al Jazeera and the Hebrew N12 News. The two headlines are in bold letters, drawing how Arab and Hebrew news channels frame the war differently.
That Al Jazeera appeals primarily to an Arab and Muslim audience should come as no surprise, says Ned Lazarus, professor of international affairs at George Washington University. “Al Jazeera is an important channel in the Arab world. The news medium was one of the first satellite channels and got a lot of credit in the Arab world for being very critical of regimes, which was new in times of the many state media.”
Lazarus, who specializes in the Arab-Israeli conflict, sees that the focus of Al Jazeera’s coverage is in the Palestinian territories. “Al Jazeera is much more concerned with the Palestinian story. It is willing to talk to Israeli interlocutors, but their journalistic items in this conflict are mostly through Palestinian eyes.”
Hebrew news channels naturally have Israeli and Jewish audiences. In the studios, family members call attention to their loved ones who find themselves as hostages in the Gaza Strip, reporters interview wounded Israelis in hospitals and journalists report the massacre in southern Israel.
Lazarus sees much criticism of the Israeli government among Hebrew media. “But,” he says, “Israeli channels are more focused on the suffering of the Israeli dead and hostages. I think in normal times every channel is already more concerned with its own side, but these are not normal times.”
Professor Lazarus calls unbalanced reporting worrisome because news media have a great deal of influence on the perception of the war. He refers to an investigation during the previous conflict between Israel and Hamas in 2021. “That showed how much people live in so-called echo chambers, their own narrative is reinforced by the media they consume.”
This is where social media plays an important role. Young people in particular consume their news via Instagram or Tiktok. “Unbalanced reporting already existed, of course, but has been greatly exacerbated by these social and digital media,” Lazarus says.
He refers to algorithms that ensure only one side of the story is shown. Traditional Arabic and Hebrew media also seem to be well aware of what their target audience wants to see.
One solution, he puts to connections or friends on social media. “Because of my work in the past, I have hundreds of Palestinian and Israeli friends on Facebook. So on my Facebook feed I am confronted with both perspectives.” Lazarus also advises looking more to Western media, “such as The New York Times and the BBC,” which take a more independent stance.
However, unbalanced coverage in Hebrew and Arab media says little about the objectivity of the news. Even at Al Jazeera, facts about Israeli casualties are given. And at Hebrew media also limited space for the suffering in Gaza.
The facts did differ after the impact at the Gaza hospital last night. While Al Jazeera speaks of an Israeli air strike, the Israeli army’s reading dominates the headlines in Hebrew media. Palestinian authorities say the hospital was hit by an Israeli airstrike. But Israel claims the explosion was caused by a failed rocket launch by Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
That news media are under a microscope became all too clear when Israeli journalist Israel Frey, who is left-wing and ultra-Orthodox, was targeted by right-wing activists for his outspoken criticism of Israeli policies during the war. Protesters also demonstrated in London in front of BBC editorial offices because the British news channel does not call Hamas a terrorist organization.