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New York Times directs reporters to avoid awkward terminology and push pro-Israel points

April 16, 2024 at 3:22 pm

The New York Times [Pixabay]

An internal memo obtained by The Intercept has revealed that the New York Times has directed its journalists covering Israel’s war against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to restrict the use of certain awkward terminology such as “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing”, and to “avoid” using the phrase “occupied territory” when describing Palestinian land.

The memo, which has been criticised sharply, raises further questions about the newspaper’s impartiality. It also directs reporters not to use the word “Palestine” except in “very rare cases” and to steer clear of the term “refugee camps” when referring to areas of Gaza settled by Palestinians ethnically cleansed when Israel was created in Palestine during the 1948 Nakba.

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The NYT’s style guide, which in a number of cases runs counter to norms established by the UN and international humanitarian law, has led to allegations that the newspaper is misinforming readers and promoting a pro-Israel narrative in the coverage of the occupation state’s deadly military offensive. The UN, for example, recognises eight refugee camps in the Gaza Strip, home to more than 600,000 registered refugees, many of whom are descendants of Palestinians forcibly expelled from their homes during the Nakba. Despite this, the NYT memo instructs reporters not to use the term refugee camps, instead referring to these areas as “neighbourhoods” or simply “areas”.

Journalists, who requested anonymity due to concerns about potential retaliation from their employer, shared their views on the controversial memo with The Intercept. One reporter said that the guidance on the use of the term “occupied territories” obscures the reality of the conflict and feeds into the US and Israeli insistence that the conflict began on 7 October last year, rather than acknowledging the long-standing Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. The UN and much of the international community consider Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem to be occupied Palestinian territories, seized by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

The newspaper defended the memo, stating that its purpose is to “ensure accuracy, consistency and nuance in how we cover the news.” However, an analysis of its coverage along with other mainstream news outlets from 7 October to 24 November conducted by The Intercept, highlights a stark discrepancy in the language used to describe attacks perpetrated by Israel and those carried out by Palestinians.

For example, the NYT described Israeli deaths as a “massacre” on 53 occasions, while using the term only once to describe Palestinian deaths, despite the fact that the number of Palestinians killed had climbed to around 15,000 by 24 November. Similarly, the term “slaughter” was used 22 times more often to describe Israeli deaths than Palestinian deaths.

The leaked memo has sparked intense debate within the NYT newsroom, with some staffers arguing that the paper’s coverage has been “deferential” to Israel’s narrative and has failed to apply even standards in its reporting. The newspaper has faced criticism in the past for its coverage of Israel and Palestine, with accusations of bias and a lack of context in its reporting.

As the death toll in Gaza continues to rise, with estimates now exceeding 33,000, including at least 15,000 children, the New York Times’s alleged promotion of a pro-Israel narrative in its coverage has come under increased scrutiny. Media watchdogs and human rights advocates are calling on the newspaper to re-evaluate its style guide and provide more balanced and accurate reporting on the issue, in line with international norms and humanitarian law.

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