Media slaughter in Gaza and government hypocrisy over killing of journalists

 By Aidan White

The slaughter of journalists among the thousands of civilian casualties in the Gaza conflict reveals how international standards for the protection of media staff are hopelessly inadequate.

According to press freedom groups journalism has never seen anything like it. The numbers of reporters and media workers killed, injured, or missing in the Gaza war is unmatched in any conflict in recent history. 

By the end of February than 100 journalists had been killed, dozens of their family members had died with them and hundreds more have been injured. Many of these victims died working out in the open, microphones or cameras in hand, while wearing media insignia as well as body armour.

Journalists in Gaza, almost all of them Palestinian and many freelancers, have felt the total impact of the Israeli invasion. They have been attacked in their homes, in their offices, on the streets and in their cars. In Gaza there are few hiding places.

Despite official denials, a pattern of targeting has emerged, not least because Israel uses state-of-the-art weapons of war. Missiles are launched by technology that can pinpoint a target with chilling precision.  

It was never supposed to be like this. For more than 40 years journalists and free speech groups have led vigorous campaigns over the safety crisis facing media. Their relentless focus on the people killed for their journalism, whether in war zones or at the hands of criminal gangs, corrupt politicians or others with secrets to keep, has forced the international community to act. 

The United Nations has launched a number of initiatives around the safety of journalists including the International Day to Combat Impunity and Violence Against Journalists (November 2) and, in particular, in 2012, a UN Plan of Action, the first concerted governmental effort to improve the safety of journalists. 

In addition, there have been a series of United Nations resolutions, adopted in 2006, 2013 and 2015. The UN says its plan is working — at least 50 countries have introduced safety mechanisms and over the past ten years the rate of impunity has fallen. But this is not enough. 

Recent events have shown that when countries go to war governments quickly forget about their solemn pledges to protect media staff. 

In 2015, for example, the passing of UN Security Council resolution 2222, was hailed as a breakthrough moment for safety of journalists. It condemned all violations and abuses committed against media and affirmed that states must do more to protect journalists as civilians. 

A core number of states signed up and then some others stepped forward to voluntarily lend their support – including Israel, reinforcing its claims to be the only democracy in the Middle East

But Israel’s actions in Gaza tell a different story. The killing of scores of Palestinian journalists and the targeting media premises have fatally undermined confidence in the idea of international protections for media.

Israel’s way of dealing with media has been to isolate Palestinian journalists, who now live in constant fear of attack, while at the same time keeping foreign media at arm’s length by restricting access to Gaza.  

The only exceptions have been journalists and media who agree to be strictly controlled through “embedding” which means they must travel under the protection of Israeli military personnel and allow official access to editorial material.

As the killings have mounted, so has the number of formal complaints over Israel’s targeting of journalists and media.

News network Aljazeera, and media support groups Reporters without Borders and the International Federation of Journalists, have submitted a number of complaints to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, including one case accusing Hamas over an Israeli journalist murdered during the group’s October 7 assault on Israel that triggered the invasion.

When it considers these cases, the Court may ask how Israel explains its actions in Gaza in the context of its enthusiasm for and voluntary support of UN resolution 2222.

Of course, this is not just a problem in war reporting. In peacetime journalists face deadly threats when they make powerful enemies. In the vast majority of those cases, the killers enjoy impunity and go untried and unpunished. 

There are new demands for fresh international action, despite the brutal setbacks being experienced in Gaza. 

In particular, these follow the barbaric murder of journalist and Saudi dissident Jamal Kashoggi inside the Istanbul consulate of Saudi Arabia in 2018. 

His killing led to an excoriating judgement by Agnes Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary killings who, after a detailed investigation concluded emphatically that Khashoggi was the victim of premeditated state murder by Saudi Arabia. She also called for a new international legal instrument to prevent a repeat of such atrocities. 

Her recommendation could lead to a rapid-response mechanism over impunity and is now in the hands of the Media Freedom Coalition, a recently-formed grouping of 50 democratic states that works with media and human rights defender to make international law in the field of journalism fit for purpose. 

So more change may be on the way, but the challenge will remain how to ensure governments keep their word to keep journalism safe. For the journalists of Gaza and others in hot-spots around the world this is still a distant dream.

Aidan White is Honorary Advisor to the Fetisov Journalism Awards and also President of the Ethical Journalism Network. For 24 years he was General Secretary of the International Federation of Journalists.

This article has also appeared on