Reuters: News Agency or Political Advocacy Group?

Reuters, the influential news agency headquartered in London, whose wire service stories appear in print, broadcast and web media outlets, routinely uses partisan, distorted terminology in its Middle East news reports. It not only bans the word “terrorism” generally but uses language that continually seeks to explain and obscure Palestinian violence. Thus Reuters regularly characterizes Palestinian terror against Israel as “the Palestinian uprising for statehood” or “uprising for Palestinian independence” or “uprising for an independent state.”

This terminology is deceptive, adopting an Arab perspective that legitimizes the use of violence against the Jewish State.

Take, for example, an article about the closure by Israeli authorities of an Israeli-Arab summer camp promoting armed struggle against the state of Israel (“Israel Shuts Pro-Palestinian Summer Camp”, July 31, 2003). Reuters referred to the camp’s violent message as “supporting a Palestinian uprising for independence.” The article’s subsequent discussion of the campers’ slogans (“don’t want flour, don’t want sardines — we want bombs”), the proclamation by a camp instructor that “we will continue the struggle to victory in liberating Palestine [from the Jordan to the Mediterranean sea],” and the observation by a teen-aged camper that Jews should leave the country to go back to where they came from, made it clear that the camp was not advocating Palestinian independence in the West Bank and Gaza, but was calling for the destruction of the Jewish State. Nevertheless, Reuters misled its readers by using a phrase which has become the news agency’s standard formulation to refer to any sort of Palestinian violence against Israel, regardless of the situation. In fact, it is used not only in articles originating from the region but in every Reuters article that mentions Palestinian violence.

For example, an article about the tragic space shuttle explosion referring to Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon included the following statement:

The launch of Ramon’s space flight had virtually erased news of the country’s woes, spreading space fever among Israelis embittered by a Palestinian uprising for statehood, a scandal-plagued national election and a domestic recession. (“Stunned World Grieves Over Shuttle Disaster,” February 2, 2003)

Again, Reuters misled its readers. Israelis were embittered, not because Palestinians want independence, but because Palestinian leader Arafat had walked away from an Israeli offer of Palestinian statehood on virtually the entire West Bank and Gaza in the Camp David/Taba negotiations without even a counter-offer, choosing to launch a terrorist war instead. Israel’s “woes” concerned the innocent civilians slaughtered in Palestinian suicide bombings and terrorist attacks.

Reuters’ terminology disregards facts of recent history, and instead chooses to circulate a Palestinian propaganda line that justifies Palestinian violence and falsely implies that Israel seeks to deny Palestinians statehood. The use of this deceptive language violates Reuters’ own standards, or “Trust Principles,” which stipulate that the company retain “independence, integrity and freedom from bias in the gathering and dissemination of news and information.”

According to Reuters’ promotional literature, editor-in-chief Stephen Jukes has established strict editorial policies to safeguard these principles, including:

  1. reporting the facts and in all situations avoiding the use of emotive terms
  2. reporting objectively actions, identity and background and paying particular attention to all coverage in extremely sensitive regions
  3. not taking sides
  4. not glorifying one side or another
  5. attempting to reflect the views of all sides
  6. not disseminating propaganda
  7. not offering journalists’ own opinions or views

CAMERA contacted Mr. Jukes regarding Reuters’ use of partisan and inaccurate terminology. He insisted, however, that Reuters’ choice of words was “well considered.” He justified the use of the phrases “uprising for independence”, “uprising for statehood”, “uprising for an independent state” and “uprising against occupation” as goals that are “clearly stated by Palestinian political leaders and by most Palestinians.” Acknowledging that militant groups, such as Hamas, have said they want to destroy the state of Israel, he nevertheless felt that “it would be misleading to imply in our choice of words that all, or even the majority of, Palestinians consider the uprising to be a rebellion to destroy Israel.”

But Jukes’s justification is as deceptive as the language his news organization employs. Reuters articles do not qualify their terminology as “the stated aims” of some Palestinian leaders. They use phrases such as “Palestinian uprising for statehood” as shorthand cover-up for Palestinian terrorism. They also refer fallaciously to Hamas “spearheading a Palestinian militant uprising against Israel for a state in Gaza and the West Bank,” Jukes’s acknowledgement of Hamas’s goals notwithstanding.

For example:

The military wing of the Islamic militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement faxed to Reuters. Hamas has spearheaded a 28-month-old Palestinian militant uprising against Israel for a state in Gaza and the West Bank. (“Israeli Tank in Flames After Hitting Bomb in Gaza” by Shahdi al-Kashif, February 15, 2003)

Contrary to Jukes’ assurances that his news agency’s stories do indicate Hamas’ stated aim of destroying Israel, Reuters articles in fact continue to falsely portray the terrorist group’s campaign of violence as part of an “uprising for statehood.” A recent example:

Israeli security sources said he was chief commander of Hamas militants in the northern West Bank and responsible for the deaths of dozens of Israelis in suicide bombings in a three-year-old Palestinian uprising for statehood. (“Israel Kills Senior Hamas Commander in West Bank” by Nadia Sa’ad, September 5, 2003)

Nor is Mr. Jukes’ claim that an “independent state” presumably side-by-side with Israel is the “clearly” stated aim of “most Palestinians” unambiguously supported by recent polls and statements by Palestinian officials.

For example, a poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) in late June shows only a marginal majority of Palestinians supporting peaceful co-existence with Israel in their own independent state even when all their demands have been met. When Palestinians were asked about whether they agree to a proposal granting mutual recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people and Palestine as the state of the Palestinians after the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and the settlement of all issues in dispute, including the refugees and Jerusalem issues, barely 52% agreed. And this is theoretically after all issues are settled to the Palestinians’ liking. (See question #14)

Even less clear is the answer to the question about what Palestinians perceive the majority opinion is regarding recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people and Palestine as the state of the Palestinian people at the end of the peace process. Only 39.9% of Palestinians believe that the majority of Palestinians supports such recognition vs. 53.1% who believe the Palestinian majority opposes it. (See question #15)

The editor nevertheless concluded that Reuters is “pretty much in order on this one” and so justified Reuters’ disregard for truth. Is this an indication that Reuters’ “producers’ guidelines” are irrelevant and the news agency simply uses its influence for political advocacy?

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