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Media executives call for protection of journalists in Gaza

The Netanyahu government and Israeli Defense Forces are facing a flood of criticism over the death of an unprecedented number of journalists who were reporting from the war zone of Gaza.

In an open letter released on February 29, executives from more than 30 leading news organizations from around the world voiced their support for journalists reporting in Gaza. And they called on authorities to protect all civilians and notably journalists as required by the United Nations.

In the five months since Hamas’ brutal October 7 terrorist attack on civilians unleashed a massive Israeli response, 94 journalists have been killed, including 89 Palestinians who were killed by Israeli military, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The war in Gaza ranks as the deadliest conflict for journalists ever documented by CPJ.

CPJ and Reporters Without Borders have urged the international community to pressure Israel to end the carnage, and for the Security Council to enforce Resolution 2222 which it passed in 2015 and which requires combatants to protect journalists and media personnel who are reporting on conflict

The February 29 open letter was signed by top executives at news organizations such as Associated Press, The New York Times, Reuters, BBC, Germany’s Der Spiegel, Japan’s Asahi Shimbun, as well as the Editor-in-Chief at Israel’s Haaretz newspaper.

It said those responsible for violations of the Security Council resolution should be held accountable.

“Attacks on journalists are also attacks on truth,” the letter said. “We commit to championing the safety of journalists in Gaza, which is fundamental for the protection of press freedom everywhere.” The CPJ has also advocated for more access for journalists in Gaza.

UNESCO’s director general, Audrey Azoulay, has issued statements deploring the death of journalists and is calling for “an independent and transparent investigation.”

Israel’s defenders blame Hamas for the high death toll among civilians, including journalists.

Hamas’s October 7 terrorist attack brutalized civilians – notably women and children – and brought down the wrath of Israelis determined to defend themselves. Hamas fighters are operating among civilians in Gaza, and Israel accuses them of using civilians as human shields.

In a recent podcast, former AP reporter Matti Friedman also questioned the independence of the mostly Arab journalists who have been based in Gaza and must answer to Hamas-run authorities who do not support press freedom.

Reporters can’t work in Gaza unless they are “willing to play ball with Hamas,” Friedman – who covered the Middle East for The Associated Press – told podcaster Dan Senor. He argued the absence of reporting on Hamas’s military buildup or its construction of a vast labyrinth of tunnels under Gaza prior to October 7 is evidence of media complicity with Hamas.

That view of journalists as propagandists, or victims of intimidation motivated by fear or favour, rather than as fact-finders who are operating in a challenging political environment makes it easier for Israeli supporters to deflect calls for their protection.

World Press Freedom Canada urges all sides in the conflict to respect press freedom and make every effort to protect journalists and other civilians.