Monday, April 15, 2024

NYT Gaza Memo: Avoid “Genocide,” “Ethnic Cleansing,” and “Occupied Territory”


The New York Times has come under scrutiny for its internal memo instructing journalists to restrict the use of certain terms when covering Israel’s war on the Gaza Strip. The leaked memo obtained by The Intercept revealed guidelines that advised against using terms like “genocide,” “ethnic cleansing,” and “occupied territory” when describing the conflict.

The memo, written by Times standards editor Susan Wessling and international editor Philip Pan, aimed to provide guidance on maintaining objective journalistic principles in reporting on the Gaza war. However, some Times staffers expressed concerns that the memo showed deference to Israeli narratives, rather than presenting a balanced view of the situation.

The guidance instructed reporters to avoid using the word “Palestine” except in rare cases and to steer clear of the term “refugee camps” when describing areas in Gaza historically settled by internally displaced Palestinians. These areas, recognized by the United Nations as refugee camps, house hundreds of thousands of registered refugees.

The internal memo has been regularly updated since it was first distributed to Times journalists in November. It offers insight into the thinking of Times international editors as they navigate challenges within the newsroom surrounding coverage of the Gaza war.

Issues over style guidance have been a point of contention at the Times, with disputes arising over coverage of various events, including the Gaza conflict and allegations of systematic sexual violence. The leak of internal discussions led to an internal probe that ultimately concluded unsuccessfully.

Debates within the newsroom have intensified over the coverage of the Gaza conflict, with tensions boiling over in internal communication channels. The guidance outlined in the memo aimed to steer clear of using inflammatory language and incendiary accusations, urging reporters to focus on clarity and precision in their reporting.

Despite efforts to maintain objectivity, concerns have been raised about the language used in Times reporting on the Gaza war. The analysis showed a disparity in the use of terms like “slaughter,” “massacre,” and “horrific,” with such language predominantly applied to attacks against Israelis rather than Palestinians.

The memo also addressed highly charged language around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including usage of terms like “terrorism” and “terrorist.” It instructed journalists to exercise caution in their language choices and avoid labels that may be interpreted differently by readers.

In cases where terms like “occupied territory” and “refugee camps” were discussed, the Times’ style guidelines diverged from established norms recognized by the United Nations and international humanitarian law. The guidance prompted criticism for obscuring the reality of the conflict and feeding into narratives that downplay the core issues at stake.

As debates continue within the newsroom and public scrutiny intensifies, the leaked memo has shed light on the challenges faced by journalists covering complex events like the Gaza conflict. The need for sensitivity, accuracy, and nuance in language choices remains a priority for news organizations like The New York Times as they navigate contentious issues in their reporting.

Latest stories