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How The Media 'Whataboutism' And Bias Reporting Influences Foreign And Domestic Judgement

In Layman Terms explaining 'whataboutism'. As bickering couples and parents of siblings will know, this happens in daily life all too often. "You lied about where you were last night!" a person feeling wronged will say. To which, instead of owning up, the partner replies: "Well, what about you? You lie to me all the time!"

The rise of social media and increasing political polarisation may well have made whataboutism more visible. But it is certainly not a new tactic. It was, in fact, taught by the sophists, a group of lecturers, writers and teachers in Greece, over 2,500 years ago. In philosophy, an argument is a reasoned debate aimed at truth. But in many other contexts, people often do not view arguments in this way. They view them, rather, as battles to be won. Their goal is to get their opponent to concede as much as possible without their conceding anything themselves.

We have witnessed the skulduggery of 'whataboutism' aplenty since the beginning of the Israel Gaza conflict during which Western spin doctors have let their virulent anti-Palestinian bias turn journalistic inquiries into thinly-veiled inquisitions. This phenomenon is best captured in a political cartoon that has gone viral on social media: a grief-stricken Gazan mother kneels on the ground holding a dead child in her lap while she is surrounded by hands pointing microphones at her, their foam covers depicting the logos of Western media corporations such as CNN and Sky News. The caption headlining the caricature reads: "But do you condemn Hamas?

Historical Background
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict began towards the close of the 1800s. Resolution 181, also referred to as the Partition Plan, was enacted by the UN in 1947 with the goal of dividing the British Mandate of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states. With the establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, the first Arab-Israeli War began. After Israel won the war in 1949, 750,000 Palestinians were forced to flee their homes, and the region was split into three sections: the Gaza Strip, the West Bank (across the Jordan River), and the State of Israel.

Tensions in the area increased during the ensuing years, especially between Israel and Jordan, Syria, and Egypt. In preparation for a potential Israeli army mobilisation, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria signed mutual defence agreements in the wake of the 1956 Suez Crisis and Israel's invasion of the Sinai Peninsula. After a series of manoeuvres by Egyptian President Abdel Gamal Nasser, Israel launched a premptive strike on the air forces of Egypt and Syria in June 1967, sparking the Six-Day War. Following the battle, Israel was granted sovereignty over the Golan Heights from Syria, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt.

Anwar al-Sadat, the president of Egypt, declared the war a victory for Egypt because it allowed Egypt and Syria to negotiate over previously ceded territory. Six years later, in what is known as the Yom Kippur War or the October War, Egypt and Syria launched a surprise two-front attack on Israel to regain their lost territory. The thirty-year struggle between Egypt and Israel was finally resolved in 1979 when representatives from both countries signed the Camp David Accords, a peace treaty, after a series of cease-fires and peace talks.

Although the Camp David Accords led to better ties between Israel and its neighbours, there was still no agreement on the issue of Palestinian self-determination and self-governance. The first intifada began in 1987 when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians residing in the West Bank and Gaza Strip rebelled against the Israeli authorities.

The 1993 Oslo I Accords facilitated mutual recognition between Israel's government and the newly founded Palestinian Authority, as well as provided a framework for Palestinian self-governance in the West Bank and Gaza. The Oslo II Accords of 1995 built upon the terms of the original accord, requiring Israel to completely evacuate six cities and four hundred towns in the West Bank.

Palestinians launched the second intifada in 2000, which would last until 2005. It was partly sparked by Palestinian grievances over Israel's control over the West Bank, a stalled peace process, and former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's visit to the al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, in September 2000. In retaliation, the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice opposed the Israeli government's approval of the building of a barrier wall across the West Bank in 2002.

After Hamas overthrew the long-standing dominant party Fatah in the Palestinian Authority's 2006 parliamentary elections, factionalism among Palestinians erupted. This handed control of the Gaza Strip to Hamas, a political and militant movement influenced by the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood. Gaza is a small Mediterranean island that has a southern border with Egypt and has been governed by the Palestinian Authority, a semi-autonomous body, since 1993.

The election triumph of Hamas was not recognised by the US and the EU, among other countries, since the party has been viewed as a terrorist organisation by western governments since the late 1990s. Violence broke out between Hamas and Fatah after Hamas took over. A string of fatal clashes and fruitless peace negotiations between 2006 and 2011.

After confrontations in the Palestinian territories in the summer of 2014, the Israeli military and Hamas engaged in a military confrontation during which the latter launched around 3,000 rockets at Israel, prompting Israel to launch a massive attack in Gaza. A cease-fire mediated by Egypt brought the skirmish to an end in late August 2014, but not before 2,251 Palestinians and 73 Israelis had lost their lives. Following a wave of violence in 2015 between Israelis and Palestinians, Fatah President Mahmoud Abbas declared that the Oslo Accords' territorial divisions would no longer apply to the Palestinian people.

After few Palestinians rushed the perimeter fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel and threw rocks during an otherwise peaceful march in March 2018, Israeli soldiers murdered 183 Palestinians and injured 6,000 more. A few months later, terrorists from Hamas launched over 100 rockets into Israel, to which Israel retaliated with strikes on over fifty sites in Gaza over the course of a twenty-four-hour standoff. With Hamas de facto ruling the Gaza Strip and Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party running the Palestinian Authority from the West Bank, the difficult political climate led to a return to divisiveness between the two parties.

Media or a business model?

In order to prevent hate speech and warmongering, the people must be informed as accurately as possible during times of war and conflict, when misinformation is most heavily circulated. In this process, peace journalism is the most crucial kind of journalism. The term "peace journalism" describes a fact-based, fact-based, and language-conscious kind of journalism that looks for innovative ways to promote peace. Instead of reducing war to sports news where competing parties are labelled as "winners" and "losers," a language of peace is required.

It is imperative that a disagreement not be reported or viewed solely from the perspective of its immediate trigger or triggers, but rather an examination of the underlying issues, including both visible and invisible reasons that are not readily apparent, would be beneficial. Reporting on potential fallout from a war and related issues is beneficial to the journalistic cause. Reporting on the parties' potential to find common ground is equally vital as emphasising their differences. Examples of this kind of journalism did not appear in the Turkish or international press.

In this crisis, the international press-and the Western press especially-has taken a pro-Israeli posture. This is not a recent development; it has existed for a while. The Glasgow Media Group studied the disparities in vocabulary used by journalists covering Israelis and Palestinians in a 2011 study on BBC news broadcasts. According to the report, the BBC frequently referred to Palestinians as "terrorists" and used phrases like "atrocity," "brutal murder," "mass murder," "brutal cold-blooded murder," "lynching," and "massacre" to characterise the murders of Israelis.

Similarly, in the current crisis, it is noteworthy that the Western press omitted the fact that Israel was responsible for the 500-person death toll in the Gaza hospital strike.

The New York Times used rhetorical figures, or euphemism, to lessen the severity of the violent act, as evidenced by the fact that its headlines changed after the hospital attack, first reading "Israeli attack," then "attack on the hospital in Gaza," and finally "explosion at the hospital in Gaza."

The headline "Hundreds feared dead in Gaza hospital attack, Palestinian officials say" in the Washington Post gives the impression that the Palestinians died for some other, unidentified reason rather than as a result of an attack.

The official BBC News/World Twitter account (now X) sparked outrage for applying different labels to people who died in Israel and Gaza: "killed" for those who died in Israel. Expressions that propagate hatred and marginalise people are also common in Turkish media.

The following are some expressions that Turkish media outlets use:

"Attitude towards Armenians", "Raid on perverted Greek", "Usurious Jew", "Greek game", and "Insolent Greek put in his place; "Newspapers' speech and attitudes towards the parties involved in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict have demonstrated a journalistic approach that is far from solution-focused. They described the violence in great detail while resorting to agitation and propaganda.

The Arab media outlets have been posting their news with a Palestine tilt, whereas we know that the Western media is pro-Israel as if they were rooting for a sports team. Being a Muslim nation, Turkey likewise favours a pro-Palestinian viewpoint. The promoting of "religious brotherhood" inevitably influences the news that is reported and how it is reported.

Between Muslims and non-Muslims, a dualism is created by this clash. To send the message that "we are the good ones, they are the bad ones," news reports in such circumstances defend the violent tactics of the side they support and condemn the opposing side. Since the start of the most recent conflict on October 7, Turkish media has been using emotive terms in their headlines, such as "genocide," "massacre," "murderer," "exile or death," "persecution," "blood and destruction," "we cut the lifeblood," and "the lions of the ummah hit the murderer Israel." Such word choice only serves to reinforce sensationalism and exaggeration.

The historical context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the reality that violence does not happen alone, and the shared or competing interests of the parties involved outside of Israel and Palestine are some essential factors that should not be disregarded. As incorrect as it is to associate Jews with Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli government, it is equally improper to associate Hamas with Palestinians (women, children, and civilians).

The world has been seeing Israel's near total annihilation of occupied Gaza and its people for more than two months. Social media platforms are overflowing with images, videos, and testimonies from locals, medical professionals, UN representatives, and journalists. Those that are interested in learning about what is going on in the field go for these sources, watch, and read.

However, if you merely rely on newspapers or mainstream television, you will miss the tragedy of what is happening. This is due to the fact that, in the rare instance that reporting does occur, it is biased and selective, elevating one side while demeaning another. What little reporting there is in India is either summaries of stories from various western news outlets or reprints from the New York Times. Al Jazeera, which has covered Gaza since Israel started bombing it, and other regional sources are hard to come by.

For example, review the coverage given by Indian media to the temporary cease-fire that resulted in the swap of Israeli hostages held by Hamas for Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails following the October 7 attack. The majority of the reports that were copied from western sources and showed up in our newspapers concentrated on the liberated Israelis.

We read about their background and some of their experiences while incarcerated. However, very little information was available regarding the young Palestinians who were freed during the swap. Without a trial, these Palestinians have been detained in Israeli prisons. Their entire existence had changed. They didn't think they would ever be free. It was important to hear their stories as well.

However, we only heard one side in India. The Indian media's Frontline magazine was a remarkable exception. It was ridiculed by pro-government fans for using the Israel attack on Gaza as the cover topic for its November 17 issue. It has kept up with providing insightful wartime reporting.

Why does our media present such biased and incomplete coverage?

The reliance on western newspapers and news organisations for international news is one explanation. The majority of stories on any newspaper's world news page are cited from these sources. These days, almost no Indian newspaper can afford to dispatch reporters to cover a crisis directly.

Is the Indian media forced to take the government's position on foreign policy matters, even if this reality cannot be altered? Considering how frequently we are told that press freedom exists in this nation, one would assume not. However, an examination of Indian media would reveal that, for the most part, it follows government policy.

This has been particularly evident in the way that the Israel-Palestine issue has been covered recently. In contrast to India's longstanding support for Palestine, the Modi administration has sided with Israel; however, in recent days, it has changed its mind and supported a ceasefire in the UN General Assembly.

For example, Manipur briefly made headlines when the level of bloodshed in a state engulfed in a civil conflict became too great to ignore. However, it has essentially vanished from our news pages as of late. In that state, nothing is typical. Nevertheless, we don't read much about it.

Examine the coverage of the Supreme Court's decision to repeal Article 370 in a similar manner. It is affecting the Jammu and Kashmir region. The majority of newspapers provided information on the ruling, scholarly analyses of it, comments � both positive and negative � and remarks from a few local politicians. Additionally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's article about the ruling was published in all of the major newspapers.

However, there hasn't been much information released on how the ruling has affected Kashmir's common citizens thus far. People who are curious have either contacted acquaintances or perused their circumspect remarks on social media. Guarded due to the prevailing terror in the area since 2019.

This uncommon and courageous piece by Toufiq Rashid in The Wire is available, predictably, on an independent digital journalism outlet instead than in any of our national newspapers. This exquisitely written and moving piece, titled & quote Why there is silence in Kashmir over the Supreme Court's verdict,& quote is worth reading more than once.

Kashmir's people are isolated and the quiet there is deafening. Although people in Kashmir are still the greatest hosts you will ever have, and the region is still a wonderland, we are not at all content. Every day that goes by and the voices in Kashmir become muted brings us one step closer to total political estrangement.

The actual story of what is happening in this country are found in these pockets of silence, which include Kashmir, Manipur, our tribal belts, and the districts that seem to remain permanently 'below poverty line'. These are the tales that the media must cover in order to alert the public to the millions of people who are affected.

Even if we argue that the sorrows and tribulations of the people who are still alive in Gaza are some distance from us, what is our excuse for not keeping the focus on the areas engulfed in silence within our own boundaries.

Media is considered as the 4th pillar of democracy and in the current day and age media in collaboration with the technology has the power to reach every corner of the world. Humanitarian Rights and struggles cannot be shunned away for mere "trend" and unbiased as well as correct information by the sources is a dire need in the times of conflict.

Written By:
  1. Heba Danish
  2. Sambhava Bhatia

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