CNN Staff Reveal How Israel is Controlling and Censoring Media Coverage of Gaza War

The intricate task of reporting on the Israel-Palestine conflict poses unique challenges for news organizations worldwide.

by Faruk Imamovic
CNN Staff Reveal How Israel is Controlling and Censoring Media Coverage of Gaza War
© Getty Images/David McNew

The intricate task of reporting on the Israel-Palestine conflict poses unique challenges for news organizations worldwide. CNN, a leading global news network, operates under a stringent policy that requires all content related to Israel and Palestine to be reviewed by its Jerusalem bureau before publication.

This long-standing policy, aimed at ensuring accuracy in a highly polarized arena, has significant implications for the network's coverage of the Gaza war and its international repercussions. CNN, like other foreign news entities in Israel, is subject to the rules set by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) censor.

These regulations dictate the boundaries within which news organizations can operate, often limiting the scope of coverage on sensitive issues such as security cabinet meetings, hostage situations, and reporting on weapons captured in Gaza.

Compliance with these rules is essential for foreign reporters to maintain their press credentials in Israel.

Jerusalem Bureau: A Gatekeeper of Content

This approach differs from other major news outlets that prefer to handle sensitive stories through desks located outside of Israel, thereby circumventing potential pressure from the censor.

CNN's policy also extends to the language used in reporting on violence in the Gaza Strip, further influenced by the hiring of a former soldier from the IDF’s Military Spokesperson Unit as a reporter at the onset of the war.

Internal Policy Impact on Coverage

However, some CNN staff members have expressed concerns about the internal review policy's effect on coverage. According to one anonymous staff member, all content related to Israel-Palestine must be approved by the Jerusalem bureau, often leading to edits that favor Israeli narratives.

This practice has raised questions about the impartiality and balance in reporting, particularly in a conflict where narratives are heavily contested.

The CNN staff member described how the policy works in practice. “‘War-crime’ and ‘genocide’ are taboo words,” the person said.

“Israeli bombings in Gaza will be reported as ‘blasts’ attributed to nobody, until the Israeli military weighs in to either accept or deny responsibility. Quotes and information provided by Israeli army and government officials tend to be approved quickly, while those from Palestinians tend to be heavily scrutinized and slowly processed”.

The Impact of Media Policies on Public Perception and Journalism Ethics

Media Policies and Public Perception

The policies adopted by media organizations like CNN in covering conflict zones such as Israel and Palestine have a profound impact on public perception.

The way stories are framed, the sources they use, and the language they choose can significantly influence how audiences understand these complex issues. In the context of CNN's reporting on the Israel-Palestine conflict, this influence is particularly pronounced.

Media scholars argue that when reporting is filtered through specific lenses - such as a bureau that operates under the scrutiny of a country's military censor - it risks presenting a skewed narrative. Dr. Yara Hawari, a senior policy fellow at Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network, states, "The framing of news stories is crucial in shaping public opinion.

When the narrative is consistently aligned with the perspective of one party, particularly in a conflict situation, it can lead to a distorted understanding of the events on the ground."

Journalistic Ethics and Conflict Reporting

The ethical implications of CNN’s policy also raise important questions about journalistic integrity.

Adherence to journalistic standards of fairness and impartiality becomes challenging when reporting is subject to review by a bureau operating under military censorship. Renowned journalist and media critic, Glenn Greenwald, comments, "In situations where media outlets are subjected to government censorship, either directly or indirectly, the essence of journalism - which is to hold power to account - becomes compromised." CNN’s internal communications reveal a nuanced approach to reporting, where certain terms are avoided, and information from different sides is treated differently.

This selective approach has been criticized by media watchdogs for potentially leading to biased reporting. A CNN staff member, speaking anonymously, highlighted this concern: "Our reporting guidelines are rigorous, but they can inadvertently lead to emphasizing one narrative over another.

This is a challenge we constantly grapple with in conflict reporting."

CNN © Getty Images/Ahmad Khateib

Navigating the Challenges of Reporting in Hostile Environments

Journalists operating in conflict zones like Gaza face immense challenges.

They must navigate between the need to report the truth and the constraints imposed by local authorities and their own media organizations. The dilemma is succinctly captured by a foreign correspondent based in Jerusalem, who says, "We’re constantly walking a tightrope.

On one hand, there’s the commitment to truthful reporting, and on the other, there are these layers of editorial policies and local restrictions."

The Role of the IDF Censor and Press Constraints

The relationship between the IDF censor and both domestic and foreign press is fraught with complexities.

Journalists often find themselves self-censoring to avoid repercussions such as losing press credentials. American broadcasters, including CNN, have faced criticism for submitting footage from Gaza to the military censor in exchange for limited access, potentially offering a filtered view of events.

Jim Naureckas, editor of the watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, points out that such protocols are more about control than accuracy. He raises concerns about the heightened role of the Israeli government in shaping news narratives, especially in a context where the government has been accused of targeting journalists.

CNN’s Coverage: A Delicate Balance

CNN has managed to obtain raw footage from inside Gaza, showcasing human suffering, while also providing updates directly from the IDF to its global audience. In early communications, CNN’s News Standards and Practices division outlined specific guidelines on how to report the war, instructing staff to describe the Ministry of Health in Gaza as ‘Hamas-controlled’ and to provide context to casualty statistics and other claims.

These directives are reminiscent of CNN's approach during the war in Afghanistan in 2001, where civilian casualties were downplayed in light of the September 11 attacks. Similarly, the hiring of Tamar Michaelis, a former IDF soldier, to contribute to war coverage has been a point of contention, raising questions about impartiality and perspective in reporting.

Efforts to Streamline and Scrutinize Reporting

In response to the evolving situation, CNN expanded its review team to include editors outside of Israel. Jerusalem Bureau Chief Richard Greene explained that this is necessary due to the scrutiny from partisans on all sides.

The creation of the 'Jerusalem SecondEyes' alias aims to expedite the review process while maintaining a high standard of accuracy and impartiality. Yet, this approach has its limitations. Certain terms like 'war-crime' and 'genocide' are reportedly avoided, and information from Israeli military and government sources is processed more rapidly compared to Palestinian sources.

This disparity in handling different sources could impact the narrative presented to audiences. CNN's approach to covering the Israel-Palestine conflict underscores the challenges faced by journalists in conflict zones. Balancing the need for accurate, unbiased reporting with the constraints imposed by local regulations and internal policies is a delicate task.

As the conflict continues to unfold, the role of the media in shaping public perception remains a critical aspect of the broader geopolitical landscape.