“Palestinian leaders say” lots of things. And it’s perfectly reasonable for Reuters journalists to include their talking points in its news reports.
But when only one side’s views are shared with readers, the impartial journalism Reuters promises starts to look more like a partisan platform. Consider the Nov. 18 Reuters article “Gaza man shot dead in protest near border with Israel: Palestinians.” (What the Reuters headlines describes as “protests” Israel dubbed a “riot.” Even Palestinian headlines more precisely referred to “clashes.”)
In the body of the piece, Reuters mentions the past year’s wave of deadly Palestinian attacks against Israelis and shared Palestinian rationalizations for the anti-Jewish violence, but completely ignored Israel’s view of what fuels the attacks:
Palestinians, many of them acting alone and with rudimentary weapons, have killed at least 33 Israelis and two visiting Americans.
Palestinian leaders say assailants have acted out of desperation over the collapse of peace talks in 2014 and Israeli settlement expansion in Israeli-occupied territory that Palestinians seek for an independent state.
“Palestinian leaders say,” and that is all. But Israeli leaders (and plenty of independent analysts) have also weighed in on this topic. It is Palestinian incitement, they say, that inspires Palestinian violence.
This isn’t news to Reuters. In previous months, they had appropriately included the Israeli assessment alongside the Palestinian rationale:
Palestinian leaders say the assailants are acting out of desperation over the collapse in 2014 of peace talks and the expansion of Israeli settlements on occupied land that Palestinians seek for an independent state.
Israel says anti-Israeli incitement by Palestinian officials and on social media networks is stoking the violence.
Nor is it news to Reuters that reporting should be balanced and include the views of all sides in a dispute. Journalistic codes of ethics have long insisted on such fairness. And Reuters’ own ethics code does, too. The organization promises, as an “absolute” of Reuters journalism, to “always strive for balance and freedom from bias.” Journalists should “take no side, tell all sides,” they say. “There are always at least two sides to consider and we risk being perceived as biased if we fail to give adequate space to the various parties.”
Journalistic codes of ethics are only valuable to the extent that their precepts are put into practice. But as has been the case in the past, Reuters violates its promise to readers when it shares what Palestinian leaders say while muting the equally newsworthy views of Israeli leaders.
There’s no excuse for this lack of impartiality. If editors are striving for brevity in a particular piece — a reasonable thing to do — they can refrain from exploring the context behind the news. If, on the other hand, they’re striving to report with more depth, they’d be expected to share both the Israeli and the Palestinian view of what inspires violence. But Reuters opted for a third path here, one that make sense only if they’re striving to promote the Palestinian narrative at the expense of others.