Bombing Gaza media offices betrays victims

Finding an accurate narrative is harder after the destruction of journalistic outlets in Al Galaa tower
TOPSHOT - An air bomb hits the Jala Tower during an Israeli airstrike in Gaza city controlled by the Palestinian Hamas movement, on May 15, 2021. Israeli air strikes pounded the Gaza Strip, killing 10 members of an extended family and demolishing a key media building, while Palestinian militants launched rockets in return amid violence in the West Bank. Israel's air force targeted the 13-floor Jala Tower housing Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television and the Associated Press news agency. / AFP / Mahmud Hams

"The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today." A statement from Associated Press (AP) President and CEO, Gary Pruitt, concluded with this simple line, after Israeli warplanes bombed and destroyed a Gaza building that housed the agency's offices on Saturday.

There will be complicated diplomatic consequences of this strike on a site that housed two major media outlets. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has already called Mr Pruitt to express his "unwavering support for independent journalists". But the fundamental loss of Saturday's strike is that the stock of accurate stories about Palestine-Israel is now diminished in the ruins of Al Galaa tower.

The bombing also threatens norms around the protection of conflict reporters. Journalist Fares Akram captured the fear that many in the industry were already feeling. “The Associated Press office is the only place in Gaza city I feel somewhat safe. The Israeli military has the co-ordinates of the high-rise, so it’s less likely a bomb will bring it crashing down”, he wrote for AP just before the strike. For media organisations old and new this is no longer a war on which they just report, but arguably one that they also have to survive.

Police officers stand in line to separate protesters supporting Palestine from a small group of Israel supporters in front of city hall in Toronto, Ontario, Canada May 15, 2021. REUTERS/Chris Helgren     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Quote
Accurate information is not just threatened by bomb-laden warplanes

Traditional outlets are not the only front in Palestine-Israel's information war. Social media beams images, videos, opinions, even poetry and art depicting the conflict to millions. The National has reported on the work of Sheikh Jarrah resident Mohammed Al Kurd, for example, a writer whose posts now reach 350,000 followers and beyond.

As is so often the case in modern unrest and war, the medium itself has become part of the story. Instagram and Twitter are facing accusations of censoring pro-Palestinian content, something which the companies have blamed not on human bias but algorithmic inconsistencies. Not all are convinced. Tech companies have angered sections within the Palestinian cause before. In 2016, Google was accused of removing references to Palestine on Google Maps. In 2019, global renting platform Airbnb was involved in controversy surrounding its decision on whether or not to list properties that were located in Israeli settlements in the Occupied West Bank, which are considered illegal under international law.

Why all the attention on tech? Because the reach of its material matters. Whether it helps is another question. Accurate information is not just threatened by bomb-laden warplanes. Millions of views have been clocked up on videos depicting partisan mobs attacking innocent victims on both sides, stoking anger and division. Some posts that claim they show today's fighting turn out to be from years ago. This makes the role of journalists – local and international – all the more important in getting out the facts.

Yesterday's destruction of the Al Galaa building is a dramatic reminder of the increasing dangers that reporters face as they carry out their essential work. Media organisations will not be deterred; AP’s very foundation in 1846 happened because of the Mexican-America War. But with one of the agency's offices now turned to rubble, the work of journalists is even more important.