These guidelines appear in a Reuters handbook on journalism. But journalists don’t need a handbook to tell them not to play with quotes. It’s a self-evident tenet of ethical journalism.
And yet, after Israel announced plans to revoke the press card of Al Jazeera journalist Elias Karram, who has described himself as an integral part of the Palestinian “resistance,” here is how the news agency covered the story:
Here it is again, as text:
A clip from the interview Karram gave to the little-known TV station shows him saying: “A Palestinian journalist working in occupied territory … is no different to a politician or a teacher (resisting Israel’s occupation).
“The journalist is doing his part … with the pen, radio, voice or camera. You are part of this nation and you resist in your own way.”
Why all the ellipses? And what are those parentheses doing in a quotation of spoken words?
The Associated Press’s translation of Karram’s words is more straightforward:
“The work of a Palestinian journalist in occupied territories, in territories of conflict, is inseparable from the work of the resistance, the work of the politician, the work of the scholar,” Karram said. “The journalist fulfils his role in the resistance with a pen or a microphone or a camera. You are part of the people and you resist in your own way,” he said.
Palestinians use the word “resistance” to refer to both violence against Israelis and non-violent opposition to Israeli policies.
And here are the comments as they appeared in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz:
The GPO said Karram gave the interview to TV network Dar al-Iman in May 2016, during which he said: “As a Palestinian journalist in an occupied territory, or conflict zone, journalistic work is an integral part of the resistance and political and educational work.
“The journalist fulfills his media role in the resistance by pen, voice or camera, because they are part of this people, and handles his opposition in his unique way,” he added.
A video of Karram’s interview conforms to the Associated Press and Haaretz translations, with the word “resistance” — muqawama in Arabic — appearing in all the right places.
The Reuters translation, on the other hand, clearly plays with the word muqawama, diluting its impact by removing it from its forceful place in the sentence, placing it instead within parentheses at the end of the sentence, and appending to it the phrase “Israel’s occupation.” In anther sentence, Reuters strikes out the word muqawama entirely. The modifications are inexplicable and unnecessary. They violate journalistic ethics, and they disrespect readers.
The Associated Press, after its translation, helpfully informed readers that the term resistance is sometimes used to refer to violence against Israelis. It should have also noted that it doesn’t only describe opposition to Israeli policies, but often, resistance to the existence of Israel itself.