Friday, May 24, 2024

“Don’t call it genocide” – New York Times memo censoring Gaza war coverage leaked

An internal memo from The New York Times that was obtained by the American news outlet The Intercept advised journalists covering Israel’s war on the Gaza Strip to refrain from using terms like “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing.”

The letter also states that terminology and phrases like “occupied territory” and “refugee camps” had to be avoided by journalists.

Written by international editor Philip Pan, standards editor Susan Wessling, and their deputies, the memo “offers guidance about some terms and other issues we have grappled with since the start of the conflict in October,” as quoted by The Intercept.

The news organization claims that the document was first sent out in November and that it was updated every month for the course of the six-month genocidal war on Gaza.

“Issuing guidance like this to ensure accuracy, consistency and nuance in how we cover the news is standard practice,” a Times spokesperson, Charlie Stadlander, was cited as saying.

The Intercept claims that internal conflicts arose in the newsroom as a result of these “issues over style guidance,” such as “issues with an investigative story on systematic sexual violence on October 7.” The revelation “gave rise to a highly unusual internal probe” in that scenario.

The Intercept said that several employees claimed the NYT was giving “to Israel’s narrative on the events.”

A source in the NYT newsroom, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, was quoted as saying that although “it’s not unusual for news companies to set style guidelines, (…) there are unique standards applied to violence perpetrated by Israel.”
The memo that the New York Times created and distributed specifies a wide variety of words and expressions.

“The nature of the conflict has led to inflammatory language and incendiary accusations on all sides. We should be very cautious about using such language, even in quotations. Our goal is to provide clear, accurate information, and heated language can often obscure rather than clarify the fact,” the memo reads, according to the Intercept.
Journalists are encouraged to “think hard before using” words such as ‘slaughter,’ ‘massacre’ and ‘carnage’.
The memo presents these recommendations as a means of avoiding sentimental language, however, The Intercept called attention to the paper’s double standards.

“Such language has been used repeatedly to describe attacks against Israelis by Palestinians and almost never in the case of Israel’s large-scale killing of Palestinians,” according to The Intercept.

While the memo encouraged journalists to use the words ‘terrorist’ and ‘terrorist’, it instructed them to “avoid ‘fighters’ when referring to the Oct. 7 attack”.

The word ‘genocide’ is described in a specific section as “incendiary language,” with “a specific definition in international law”.

Therefore, journalists are instructed to use it “only in the context of those legal parameters.”

“We should also set a high bar for allowing others to use it as an accusation, whether in quotations or not unless they are making a substantive argument based on the legal definition,” the memo added.

The term “ethnic cleansing” is described as “historically charged.” “If someone is making such an accusation, we should press for specifics or supply proper context.”

Journalists were also discouraged to use the term ‘Palestine’ “in datelines, routine text or headlines, except in very rare cases such as when the United Nations General Assembly elevated Palestine to a non-member observer state, or references to historic Palestine.”

Earlier in January, The Intercept published an analysis of how the New York Times and other major newspapers have heavily favoured Israel in their coverage of the war on Gaza.


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