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Whose credibility?

Dramatic headlines often take the place of balanced reporting

Press roundup from France, November 15, 2023

By Judith Bat Or

What's being said

The main topic discussed in the French press is the situation of the hospitals in Gaza, especially their dwindling fuel supply for electricity, along with the dangers posed by nearby fighting.

On November 13, Le Figaro headlined its continuous news feed: "’There are many bodies in front of the main entrance’: a member of Doctors Without Borders warns of 'inhumane' conditions at the al-Shifa hospital in Gaza." Citing the head of UNRWA in Gaza, the newspaper reported that humanitarian efforts would be halted within 48 hours because of the lack of fuel and described Gaza as "besieged by Israel and caught in the fighting between Hamas and Israel." Libération highlighted the claim that this fuel shortage had, within the past 48 hours, led to the death of seven premature babies and 27 intensive care patients. France 24 published an interview titled, "‘This is no longer a hospital, it’s a mass grave,’ says the director of al-Shifa hospital in Gaza."

The newspapers also expressed concern over the forced displacement of people towards southern Gaza. Le Figaro published the testimony of a young man who resisted the "Israeli order to evacuate the north of the enclave" while many others complied, eventually giving in to “the Israeli military machine." In similar reports, Le Monde and France 24 noted that this witness was a Francophone journalist who recorded his forced flight with his family and neighbors.

Another issue concerning French media was Israel's infringements on press freedom. Libération reported Israel's blocking of the website of the Lebanese channel Al-Mayadeen, "under the pretext that it had become a 'voice for Hezbollah.'" According to Le Figaro and TV5Monde, an Al Jazeera journalist covering "the bombings in South Lebanon" was injured by Israeli fire.

What's not being said

There is little discussion of the Israeli claim that Hamas diverts gasoline that hospitals need in order to operate its war effort. There also appears to be little questioning of the credibility of information provided by Hamas.

What we think

Even the more prestigious mainstream newspapers appear to have adopted scandal-press tactics to attract readers, choosing shocking headlines even if these convey a partial or false impression. This is problematic as headlines are crucial in shaping public opinion.

The choice of those who are quoted is also significant. A hospital director or an official from a humanitarian organization such as Doctors Without Borders are figures the Western public tends to believe, and for this reason their words carry great weight. What journalists fail to note is that there is no freedom of expression in Gaza, and that statements given by such officials might well have been dictated by Hamas. While claims made by Hamas tend to be given credence, those made by Israel, even when backed by supporting evidence, tend to be treated more skeptically.

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