Unmasking News Avoidance: Gaza War Coverage

As videos and stark images unfold on the screen of your living room TV, Gaza comes alive in a cruel display. Buildings crumble amidst the chaos, and Palestinians scramble for their lives. Dust swirls. Blood stains the scene. Chaos reigns. Mutilated bodies lay strewn across the streets, their agony echoing through screams, shouts, and cries. 

The cruelty feels too surreal, happening somewhere out there in the world. But why does the Israeli army bomb these Palestinian civilians’ homes? The question keeps echoing in your mind.

The narrative shifts to a crowded hospital where a little girl’s piercing moans fill the air as her right leg is amputated, her mother holding on desperately. This reality is too harsh. With a sigh of relief, you grab the remote, muting the TV’s wails and tears. A moment of peace. Reluctantly you return to the rhythm of your daily routine.

When Hamas launched a land, sea, and air assault on Israel on October 7, 2023, and Israel declared war on Gaza the very next day, it cast its shadow across the globe. Special reports, social media buzz, live updates, and daily headlines all loomed with the news. 

Yet, akin to the fleeting interest of the public, coverage in Western countries slowly faded into the background, an echo of the intense chapters that once captivated the world.

But why is it crucial to stay informed about the war on Gaza? What compels us to avoid the news, and how can we address news avoidance during the war? Let’s delve into these questions.

A global landscape of news avoidance

On a global scale, we observe distinctive trends: a decline in news interest, reduced trust in the media, and a noticeable increase in news avoidance. This is especially evident for war and conflict-related news, as emphasized by the Reuters Institute.

There is currently no available data on how the ongoing conflict in Gaza has impacted news consumption. However, paralleling the war in Ukraine, it dominated news extensively at the conflict’s onset. But within a year, Western engagement with news on the Ukrainian war declined, as reported by the Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report 2023.

Notably, this war occurred in European territory. In light of this, one can only speculate about the extent to which people in Western countries might have sympathized with the war in Ukraine due to geographic proximity and the idea of war on a country in Europe. They may have also distanced themselves from news coverage of the Gaza conflict.

Why must we tune into the news about Gaza?

Media is a powerful tool for holding decisiomakers accountable, spreading information, and presenting new perspectives. Elise Labott, a Senior Adjunct Professorial Lecturer at the American University in Washington D.C., highlights the media’s impact on public perception in the Gaza war.

Maintaining motivation for staying well-informed through factual reporting is crucial. Avoiding news about Gaza leaves individuals ill-informed and hinders their ability to make informed decisions. The 2022 report ‘Journalism in Times of War’ by the Bonn Institute emphasizes the importance of informed citizens in active political discourse, playing a pivotal role in making democratic choices.

The consequences of this situation impact critical aspects of the conflict: The potential for Palestine to achieve statehood. The scrutiny of Israel’s actions regarding war crimes. Unraveling the events leading to Hamas’ attack on October 7 is essential for understanding the unfolding narrative.

It’s fundamental for each of us, as individuals, to form opinions on these matters. Our individual reflections will become the global narrative. A narrative that goes beyond war, shaping not only the destinies of a future Palestine and Israel but also influences the unfolding chapters of this complex, shared story in a global world.

Why do we actually avoid news in a world-historical event like the one unfolding in Gaza?

The complexity of the Gaza conflict often makes it feel challenging to understand. For instance, initial blame on Israel for the Al-Ahli hospital explosion shifted to an errant Palestinian rocket, despite limited evidence. Whom should one believe? American media tends to favor Israeli and American government narratives, occasionally sidelining Palestinian perspectives. Reports on Palestinian casualties often come with skepticism, emphasizing numbers sourced from Gaza’s “Hamas-run” health ministry, as noted by Dr. Labott.

The report ‘Journalism in Times of War’ highlights one-sidedness in news reports, with users noting imbalances in representing diverse life situations. Concerns arise about foreign correspondents influenced by biases, especially those from the “first world,” struggling to grasp local reality. 

Media users criticize them for perpetuating stereotypes, portraying people in war zones as weak compared to those in Western countries. Instances lack diverse perspectives, with a noticeable absence of a “Palestinian,” “refugee,” or “Western perspective.” This leads individuals to avoid the news altogether.

Reporting on the Gaza war is notably challenging due to the ban on international journalists entering Gaza. The international media relies on Palestinian journalists, aid agency staff, and social media reports, requiring meticulous verification, according to The Guardian. 

Some international journalists have chosen to embed themselves with the Israeli army, thereby willing covering only one side of the narrative. Here, contact with Palestinians is prohibited. All reports should undergo Israeli army review. Israel’s control of Gaza access gives it a strategic advantage in media reporting. The absence of varied perspectives in the Gaza coverage could contribute to media users tuning out from their news sources due to distrust that their sources are delivering factual and accurate information.

Avoiding news can also serve as a self-defense strategy against psychological stress. ‘Journalism in Times of War’ reveals that exposure to negative news induces fear and sadness beyond war reporting, potentially leading to extreme reactions, such as PTSD. After the initial shock of ongoing violence, people often feel helpless, prompting many to shut down. In this context, news avoidance shouldn’t be viewed as disinterest.

So, how to address news avoidance concerning the Gaza war?

The Bonn Institute conducted a study on constructive journalism. The study emphasized the importance of prioritizing people’s information needs. War correspondents in the study suggested addressing news avoidance through constructive reporting, emphasizing resistance movements and civilian engagement. However, criticisms emerged, cautioning against romanticizing and oversimplifying war reporting.

Media users suggested advancing with nuanced reporting, diverse perspectives, and careful language use. They also stressed the significance of up-close, personal stories. They urged respectful, solutions-oriented reporting and emphasized the necessity of information on tangible individual courses of action. Transparency, background information, and verification were highlighted as crucial elements for rebuilding trust and countering disinformation.

Participants recommended trigger warnings before showing graphic war images. This would allow users the choice of content. Diverse suggestions emerged, with some advocating for unfiltered portrayals to convey the harsh reality of war.

Now, I’ll retreat to my television, eager to illuminate the distant reality unfolding somewhere out there.

The echoes of thousands of voices from Gaza slowly fade, together with the fleeting nature of public interest. Yet, the shadows of that fateful day serve as a reminder that global attention must find its way back to Gaza.