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Friday, May 24, 2024

CNN staff see bias in network’s coverage of Israeli war on Gaza: Report

CNN editorial practices have faced criticism from its employees, who fear pressure from Israel is shaping its Gaza coverage, according to British daily The Guardian.

US-based news channel CNN is facing internal backlash from its own staffers, who allege that the network’s editorial policies have resulted in biased coverage of the war in Gaza, according to British daily The Guardian.

Journalists in CNN newsrooms, both in the US and overseas, have complained over what they see as skewed reporting influenced by management directives. Specifically, they point to a story approval process that they argue has led to highly partial coverage of events such as the Hamas attack on Oct. 7 and Israel’s subsequent attacks on Gaza.

Read more: Saima Mohsin, journalist fired from CNN, seeks the judgement of case

“The majority of news since the war began, regardless of how accurate the initial reporting, has been skewed by a systemic and institutional bias within the network toward Israel,” one unnamed CNN staffer told the Guardian. “Ultimately, CNN’s coverage of the Israel-Gaza war amounts to journalistic malpractice.”

According to accounts from six CNN staffers across multiple newsrooms, as well as internal memos and emails obtained by The Guardian, daily editorial decisions are influenced by directives originating from CNN headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia.

These directives reportedly impose strict guidelines on coverage, including limitations on quoting Palestinian group Hamas and reporting Palestinian perspectives while affording Israeli government statements preferential treatment. Moreover, every story related to the conflict must undergo clearance by the Jerusalem bureau before being broadcast or published.

The tone of CNN’s coverage, staff members claim, is set by the network’s new editor-in-chief and CEO, Mark Thompson, who took the role just two days after the Oct. 7 attack. Concerns have been raised about Thompson’s willingness to resist external pressures influencing coverage, particularly in light of allegations that, during his tenure as the BBC’s director general, he acquiesced to Israeli government pressure on several occasions.

‘They had it coming’ narrative

CNN insiders suggest that especially during the initial weeks of the Israeli war on the besieged strip, there has been a heightened emphasis on Israeli suffering and the Israeli perspective of the conflict as a pursuit against Hamas. However, there has been less attention given to the extent of civilian casualties – over 27,000 dead to date, and nearly 67,000 wounded – and the destruction experienced by Palestinians in Gaza.

In late October, as the death toll in Gaza from Israeli bombing rose sharply, a set of guidelines circulated among CNN staff. The memo emphasized the need to frame the conflict in terms of Hamas’ actions while downplaying broader historical context or alternative perspectives.

Read more: Trump to sue CNN, ‘other media outlets’ for defrauding public

“How else are editors going to read that other than as an instruction that no matter what the Israelis do, Hamas is ultimately to blame? Every action by Israel – dropping massive bombs that wipe out entire streets, its obliteration of whole families – the coverage ends up massaged to create a ‘they had it coming’ narrative,” said one staffer.

The memo also instructed that any mention of casualty figures from the Gaza Health Ministry must include the term “Hamas-controlled,” suggesting that reports of thousands of children’s deaths were unreliable despite international bodies such as the WHO affirming the accuracy of these figures. CNN staff indicated that this instruction originated from Thompson himself.

Additionally, CNN staff members claim that the network has implemented policies aimed at marginalizing Palestinian voices, including directives barring the reporting of most Hamas statements and restrictions on the use of Hamas-recorded video footage.

“That position was reiterated in another instruction on 23 October that reports must not show Hamas recordings of the release of two Israeli hostages, Nurit Cooper and Yocheved Lifshitz. Two days later, (Senior Director of News Standards and Practices David) Lindsay sent an additional instruction that video of the 85-year-old Lifshitz shaking hands with one of her captors ‘can only to be used when specifically writing about her decision to shake hands with her captor’,” said one staffer.

Furthermore, CNN’s longstanding policy requiring approval from the Jerusalem bureau for all Israel-Palestine-related content has come under scrutiny. Some staff members allege that this process, along with the introduction of a system called “SecondEyes,” which expedites approvals, has led to the prioritization of Israeli official statements while delaying or censoring Palestinian perspectives.

Critics within CNN fear that the network’s coverage of the Gaza conflict risks tarnishing its reputation, which was bolstered by its reporting on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. However, others argue that editorial standards may have been compromised, particularly in light of perceived biases during the Ukraine conflict since February 2022.