Hani Barghouthi reflects on the connection between journalism in the UK and Gaza, and the complications of advocating for one while the other is under attack.
It’s a confusing experience these days, telling people that I work to support independent journalism in the UK.
As a supporter of the country’s indie news sector, I spend my time thinking about sustainable business models, Big Tech duopolies dominating digital markets and corporate giants eroding journalism’s democratic functions.
Since late December, curious family members and friends have asked about my job during my visit to my hometown, Amman, Jordan, where I am based for the next few days and carrying out my PINF work remotely.
In response to their questions, I describe our efforts to support the right of UK communities to accurate, trustworthy public interest news that reflects their realities and speaks to their needs.
I talk about our plans to address the very real and urgent challenges faced by the sector, knowing that whoever I am talking to has just heard, like I have, about another Palestinian journalist killed in Gaza.
Sitting in Amman, less than 150km from Gaza and closer still to the West Bank and Israel, it is a confusing experience being consumed by business models and tech duopolies and corporate manoeuvring. I think to myself, ‘Surely the profession that in the UK fights to survive economic challenges cannot be the same one whose workers in Gaza are fighting to survive indiscriminate bombing?’
But it is, and Israel’s killing of Palestinian journalists on an unprecedented scale has put the differences within it in painful, stark relief.
We must not let these differences blind us to the fact that the values we uphold for journalism in the UK, of speaking truth to power and informing citizens to enable them to participate in thriving democracies, are the same values guiding the journalists whose lives are being sacrificed in Gaza.
These are values worth fighting for, and values that we expect those in power to treat as sacred and non-negotiable.
More journalists were killed in the first 10 weeks of Israel’s assault on Gaza than have ever been killed in a single country over an entire year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Of the 120 journalists killed in 2023, according to the International Federation of Journalists, more than two-thirds were in Gaza.
Most recently, an Israeli drone strike killed Hamza Al-Dahdouh and Mustafa Thuraya while they were travelling on assignment. Thuraya was a freelance videographer for Agence France Presse, while Al-Dahdouh worked for Al Jazeera.
Al-Dahdouh’s father, Wael, is Al Jazeera’s Gaza bureau chief and himself was injured on assignment. Since October 7, Wael has lost his wife, several children and a grandchild in Israeli fire while continuing, somehow, to report on the war.
As the aggression has unfolded since Hamas’ attack on October 7, 2023, evidence has mounted that Israel is targeting journalists and their families in the besieged strip. CPJ reports 72 dead Palestinian journalists while the IFJ reports 78 and Gaza’s Ministry of Health reports 109. Dozens more have been injured.
Four Israeli journalists were killed during Hamas’ attack on a music festival and a kibbutz on October 7, at least one of whom was on assignment. Three Lebanese journalists have also been killed in Israeli strikes on Lebanon since then.
The numbers from Gaza mean that by some estimates, one in 10 Palestinian journalists has been killed in the last three months. If that figure were applied to the National Union of Journalists’ membership, I would be writing about 3,000 dead journalists in the UK.
In the UK and in Gaza, journalists are concerned about emergent technologies, but in very different ways. In the UK, for example, the sector and the Government explore artificial intelligence and the dangers it might pose to press sustainability and intellectual property. Meanwhile, the IFJ reports that AI is being used in the violent campaign against Palestinian journalists.
“The Israeli military has previously boasted about its AI targeting systems that allows it to identify potential victims at great speed and scale. Israel is the home of some of the most sophisticated surveillance systems that have repeatedly been used against journalists. Without proof to the contrary all the evidence points to the assassination of reporters and camera operators. This cannot be allowed to continue”, the Federation said this week.
We should all be worried if the wanton killing of journalists in Palestine, Ukraine, Israel, Lebanon, Afghanistan, India and elsewhere continues without consequence.
We join the NUJ and IFJ in calling for an end of the targeted killing of journalists, in Palestine and globally. We hope that 2024 sees a reversal of the devastating trends that 2023 held for journalists, but what we have seen in the first two weeks of the year does not inspire optimism.
As advocates for a free, sustainable press that underpins and upholds democracy and holds power to account, we should all speak up when those in power try to decide where, when and for whom these values apply.
Hani Barghouthi is Campaigns Manager at PINF.