/ 13 October 2023

The blurred lines of media responsibility

A Palestinian Flag Is Seen Atop Of A Destroyed Building With
A Palestinian flag is seen atop of a destroyed building with an overview of destroyed buildings in Beit Hanoun town following the Israel airstrikes in Gaza. (Photo by Mahmoud Issa/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

What is the responsibility of a newsroom in a time like this?  This is the question we asked ourselves as the horrors of war streamed onto our televisions and social media feeds. 

We know that many expect us to pick a position; just as they do for every other entity in the 21st-century globalised world – from football clubs to fast food chains.

But nuance drowns in a sea of noise. 

The Mail & Guardian’s stance on the “Palestinian question” has always been unequivocal. As a publication born during the dying grip of apartheid, we support the Palestinian right to autonomy and denounce the creeping occupation of its land.

That does not mean we support the violence wrought by the firing of thousands of rockets by Hamas into Israel, or that country’s retaliatory bombing of Gaza. We condemn all violence inflicted on civilians in any conflict around the globe. 

We are acutely cautious, however, of playing into an asinine, binary view of the world.

The tragic loss of innocent life on both sides of the Gaza border (well over 2 000 souls) has its roots buried deep in centuries of complex history. The most recent decades of that history have manifested into an oppressive Jerusalem government that has strangled every aspect of Palestinian life.

Just as a spring recoils when stomped on, you can expect a reaction when an entire nation is subjugated. To acknowledge reality is not to condone violence. 

Moralising breeds nothing but hate. Rather, we must seek to understand. As a news organisation, in particular, it is incumbent on us to present you with the tools to craft your own understanding – in the form of impartial news, accurate facts and coherent arguments.

And while we will not shy away from making our position clear, we will not force it down your throat. In these pages, online and in print, you will find voices from across the critical gamut. In moments of strife, it is especially important that we not allow ourselves to fear argument from any quarter.

As South Africans, this is not some far-off conflict we can afford to ignore. Colonial indifference created this crisis; continued international apathy has perpetuated it. Efforts by the global community will be key to finding a peaceful solution – just as they were in ending our own struggle.

The fight is not for any one side … but rather for the right of all people to live freely. There are no clear sides to fight for in the first place. 

Hamas does not unilaterally represent the Palestinian people. Their actions are as reviled by many in the West Bank and Gaza as they are anywhere else in the world. They know that with every obstinate Hamas negotiation tactic, every assault, the walls have gotten higher, life has become harder.

Now once more, it is they who will suffer most. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who now has a reprieve from the internal resistance he has faced all year – has vowed a response unlike any that came before it.

The bombs have already been devastating. As long as they continue to fall the cycle will never be broken.