How should the group Hamas be described by the media?
The Associated Press this week published two articles (here and here) in which the group is referred to as “militant” and “Islamist.” While militant is vague and adds nothing to a reader’s understanding of the group, “Islamist” is worse. It is a slur on millions of Muslims around the world.
Are readers to believe that to be an “Islamist” means that one must endorse an agenda of murder and violence against innocents?
Many journalists are averse to using the term “terrorist.” They feel it is politically loaded, and its use would compromise their ability to report objectively.
In conflicts around the world, many governments label all insurgent attacks against either civilian or military targets as “terrorism.” At the same time, those who oppose those governments will frame the attacks as legitimate resistance.
Reporters want to be able to report the news fairly without reflecting bias. However, as with many controversial issues, there is a mechanism that they can use to provide context without taking sides.
They can report what others say about the subject.
For example, when it comes to the issue of Israeli settlements, many reporters will write that “most of the international community consider them a violation of international law.” The same formula is used when referring to Jerusalem, the city which Israel calls its capital although this designation “is not recognized by the international community.”
There are sound arguments that can be made showing that settlements are not illegal and that Israel’s designation of Jerusalem as its capital is legitimate. Yet the media rarely explain these positions. Instead, the “international community” is used as the judge to let readers know that Israeli claims are not accepted globally.
Yet for some reason, the same standard is not used when it comes to references to Hamas. The AP will use the phrase that “Israel considers Hamas a terrorist organization.” But what about the “international community,” the reference that is used to provide context in other areas of the conflict?
The United States considers Hamas a terrorist organization. Canada considers Hamas a terrorist organization. So does Australia. Hamas is also listed as “terrorist” by Egypt. Despite an earlier court ruling, the EU still considers Hamas a terror group.
Yet when the AP reports, they only write that Israel makes the claim that Hamas is terrorist.
If they were consistent with the way they report other aspects of the conflict, they would say that: “Many members of the international community have designated Hamas as a terrorist organization.”
It seems that the use of the “international community” to provide context on the Middle East is restricted to issues in which Israeli arguments are dismissed.
If the media are not going to be consistent, then they have an obligation to provide readers with all the arguments on these subjects.
For more, read the CAMCI.Report.