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Unravelling Biased Narratives: Identifying and Responding to Harmful Media Portrayals of Palestine

by in Palestine on 24th November, 2023

“O you who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing; and let not the hatred of a certain people (nation) prevent you from acting justly. Adhere to justice, for that is nearer to piety, and fear Allah. Allah is informed of what you do.” (Surah Al-Ma’idah 5:8)

When it comes to Palestine in the Western mainstream media, there is a gross miscarriage of journalistic ethics and standards. It’s clear that these attempts are designed to pit people against each other in just the right amount of apathy or rage, provoked by the reader’s inherent bias. The existence of media bias is not the problem, it’s the disastrous impact it has when it’s abused, always at the cost of the truth. 

Where they fail, we must succeed, and it starts with you and I, right now.

Unravelling the Narrative: My Journey Through Media Bias

Years ago in the hushed confines of a secondary school classroom, I found myself at the intersection of curiosity and revelation. It was my first lesson in Media Studies, a subject promising to unveil the mysteries behind the information that shaped our worldview. Little did I know that this class would serve as the catalyst for a lifelong exploration into the intricate dance between truth and distortion, within and without the realm of Western mainstream media.

Our teacher, a sage in media literacy, shattered the illusion of an impartial news narrative right from the start. “The mainstream media,” he proclaimed, “rarely tells the entire truth.” As wide-eyed students, we hung on to his every word, unaware of the paradigm shift about to unfold. He went on to dissect the art of narrative manipulation, revealing how media outlets are like master puppeteers, deftly presenting a partial truth to placate the public whilst steering further agendas with political, capitalist, and corporate ties. For example, the claims about ‘weapons of mass destruction’ in Iraq were eventually exposed to be a massive distraction that furthered other agendas.

“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” – Mark Twain

The Sinister Undercurrent of Mainstream Media

Western mainstream journalism continues to perpetuate abhorrent lies against Palestinians through an entrenched Islamophobic discourse. Amid the rise of alternative media, ethical journalists distinguish themselves as reliable. However, irresponsible journalism fosters an environment where hate speech and attacks can thrive.

Furthermore, Israel’s propaganda machine, which is a precise and intentional Zionist construct, is working overtime to subdue the masses into sympathising with their self-proclaimed right to murder Palestinians and further the apartheid’s genocidal madness. 

It is futile to expect abolishing such evil can be achieved in one lifetime, so we must arm ourselves with tools to dismantle harmful narratives instead.

Unmasking Bias: A Simple Exercise in Discerning Media Narratives

Understanding is empowering so here’s a simple exercise you can do to spot harmful mainstream media bias.

Example One

  • Notice that the eye-catching large typeset headline takes up most of the page. We’ve seen them before, these headlines tend to be no more than 5 words to grab the attention of the reader while simultaneously revealing their bias.
  • The carefully chosen words of this headline are specifically selected to assault your imagination and unconsciously form a horrifying image in your mind.
  • Your sight is naturally drawn to the adorable dog in the clutch of an Israeli occupation soldier in combat gear, drawing sympathy towards him and what he represents.
  • The bullet points give the reader key points to bear in mind; the reader can ascertain quite quickly that Israel is centred as the source of information and their favoured bias lean.
  • Mentioning Isis brings to mind the atrocities they committed with filmed beheadings from years ago, a reminder of barbarism conveniently aimed at tarring Hamas with the same brush.
  • And finally the use of ‘blitz’, brings the knowledgeable reader’s attention to what happened in London during WW2, summoning a cocktail of feelings when Londoners were the victims of bombardment from the German enemies from the past, and now associating with Hamas in the present.

These journalistic tactics are employed to subtly guide readers, tapping into their inherent biases to align with the publication’s angle of bias, whether the information is true or not becomes secondary to their primary goal.

Example Two

Now, let’s examine the headline of an online news publication. At first glance, it appears they have a more objective view. However, the headline includes the word ‘unverified’, while repeating the damaging claims.

  • The tagline underscores the lack of publicly disclosed photo evidence, suggesting the existence of such evidence could be beyond public view. Even if the ‘beheaded babies’ claims lack corroboration, to imply the presence of other photos of ‘dead infants’ easily misleads the unsuspecting reader to believe that these incidents are linked.
  • It’s clear that Israel is being framed as the victim from the outset and the source of information for these publications. This is a form of persuasion through bias that helps to steer your attention to where they want it to go.
  • The reader who isn’t aware or informed on the Palestinian plight will have no trouble accepting the views presented here. They have no other grounds to go on and this is a prime example of the power of manipulation and influence western mainstream media bias yields over its audience.

Tragically, this now debunked claim that 40 babies were beheaded caught on like wildfire by the Western mainstream media and has had a devastating impact on innocent victims in other parts of the world. For instance, take the example of the 6 year old Palestinian boy who was murdered and his mother severely injured during a heinous attack by their landlord.

Furthermore, ‘All Sides’ Misinformation Watch claims to be an impartial voice on the surface at first glance. Upon further inspection, it is clear they have also joined the bandwagon to lay blame squarely on Hamas. Why? Because Israel has been the sole bearer of these claims, which have yet to be verified by independent investigators. It’s a subtle hint and easily missed if you’re not reading with discernment.

Palestinians Shaping Counter-Narratives

“It only takes one voice at the right pitch to start an avalanche.” – Dianna Hardy

Western mainstream media bias has proven one thing over and over again: their purpose is to serve masters who worship at the altar of power and exploitation of people.

Today, we are witnessing, in unison, the genocide and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in Gaza bordering total erasure, in real time.

While social media titans have been busy deploying algorithmic censorship, shadow banning, and account deletion of anyone showing their support for Palestine, people from all over the world are relentlessly showing up for Palestinians.

The whole world watches with bated breath, waking up each day to check in with just a handful of Palestinians in Gaza to see if they’re still alive. Bisan, Motaz Azaiza, and Plestia Alaqad, are a few Palestinians providing raw footage of their plight and documenting the escalating destruction.

Despite their ongoing tragedy, these heroic young Palestinians are going above and beyond to keep us informed of their ethnic cleansing. Western mainstream media and Israeli propaganda are finding it increasingly challenging to keep pace, as their falsehoods become more evident with each deceitful attempt to force feed us their fabricated lies.

Palestinians in the diaspora along with all their supporters, are taking a stand like never before and leading initiatives to mobilise their followers in daily online activism. Subhi Taha recently launched The Palestine Academy to empower non-Palestinians with knowledge about Palestine and its history, aiming to reclaim a narrative that has been hijacked by the occupier for far too long.

Lara, aka @gazangirl, on Instagram, has been relentless in her efforts to keep the world informed about breaking news, combat misinformation and expose the attempts to manipulate the narrative surrounding the atrocities perpetrated by the apartheid Israeli regime.

Cognitive dissonance only holds for so long and individuals are uniting to bring the plight of the Palestinians to the foreground. The visible dissent of many people against their morally corrupt governments are sending shock waves and a clear message around the world as more and more people wake up to the smell of genocide. 

A Call to Truth and Responsibility in Light of Islamic Teachings

The teachings of Islam by the Qur’an and Sunnah with their emphasis on truth, proof, and justice serve as timeless guiding principles. Integrating these teachings into our daily lives reinforces a commitment to ethical conduct and fairness, acting as a compass especially in navigating present-day information on warfare.

As believers, the call to verify information, avoid false testimony, and uphold truthfulness serves as a shield against the pitfalls of all types of communication, including mainstream media. By aligning media consumption with Islamic principles, we can contribute to a more informed and just, global discourse, guiding society away from the divisive impact of harmful manipulation of narratives.

The Qur’anic Emphasis on Verification:

“O believers, if an evildoer brings you any news, verify ˹it˺ so you do not harm people unknowingly, becoming regretful for what you have done.” (Surah Al-Hujurat 49:6)

In the context of harmful media depictions that can manipulate the public, this verse underscores the importance of scrutinising news sources and stories to discern truth from falsehood.

Prophetic Guidance on Truthfulness and False Testimony:

Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ teachings amplify the Qur’an’s message, particularly when it comes to truthfulness and the avoidance of false testimony. 

Narrated by Abu Bakrah (may Allah be pleased with him), the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said:

“‘Shall I not inform you of one of the gravest of the cardinal sins?’ We said: ’Yes, O Messenger of Allah!’ He ﷺ said, ’To join others as partners with Allah in worship and to be undutiful to one’s parents.’ The Messenger of Allah ﷺ sat up from his reclining position (in order to stress the importance of what he was going to say) and added, ’I warn you against making a false statement and giving a false testimony. I warn you against making a false statement and giving a false testimony.’ The Messenger of Allah ﷺ kept on repeating this (warning) till we wished he should stop.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)

It is clear that speaking without proper investigation for a believer is tantamount to falsehood. Pursuing the path of haqq is essential for believers seeking righteousness and moral integrity.

How To Identify Media Manipulation And What You Can Do About It 

“If you don’t read the newspaper you’re uninformed. If you do read the newspaper you’re misinformed.” – Denzel Washington

For individuals who wish to be mindful of their media consumption, the ability to recognise and counteract harmful media bias is essential. It is the responsibility of every citizen who has the capacity to take action.

Bearing this in mind, we must steel ourselves to identify and actively engage in dismantling the news until the truth becomes clear.

1. Get Educated

For starters, this involves cultivating media literacy. Just as we would scrutinise the ingredients and expiration date on perishable goods, we must learn to assess the reliability and credibility of our information sources.

2. Question The Narrative

Who are they speaking for and against? This will help you to see what you’re being led to believe. Question why ordinary Palestinians are documenting their genocide in real time and no mainstream media outlets are showing you this.

3. Pay Attention to The Evidence

Check the evidence or lack thereof to the claims being made. If something isn’t adding up, beware of being persuaded to arrive at judgements without proof and merit.

4. Verify The Claims

A simple search on X will start you off in the right ballpark to discover multiple sources of information and narratives. Look to see if any of it has been debunked or get more context from different perspectives. Be sure to take some time to reflect before reposting anything. Remember, the devil works in haste.

5. Prepare & Engage

If you have seen the truth come to light while falsehood is still making the rounds, do not let this pass you by without adding your voice to speak out about it. Use correct terminology to counteract the harmful and biased language in the mainstream media.

6. Support Reputable Sources of Information

The closer the content is to the Palestinians themselves, the purer the truth is to what is happening. Remind others of this often. Initiate and participate in conversations about this whenever possible.

7. Avoid Visiting Mainstream Media Websites

Boycott also works by attention given and click through rates. Use third party social media channels to expose and refute them where necessary.

8. Amplify The Truth

Regardless of where you begin, you can still make a positive impact. Engage in real life conversations about media bias and manipulation. Many people are aware of the fact that mainstream media publications may prioritise profit over truth, so find a common ground to discuss this and encourage critical thinking.

We must actively commit to not just consume news anymore, but also use our voices to question and openly condemn the harmful narrative that pollutes our news feeds. As a bonus, we gain the attention of more people who are waking up to join us in these efforts.

Taking a Stand Against Harmful Media Bias

Islam is unmatched in encouraging critical thinking, urging individuals to cross-check information, question narratives, and be discerning consumers of news and the sharing of it. By upholding these principles, believers contribute to a society grounded in truth, justice, and ethical communication that benefits all. We face a collective task ahead. Much like my teacher sowing seeds in that classroom, we must nurture the shared commitment to support our global community’s resistance against the apartheid Israeli regime.

Our duty is to amplify the struggles faced by our brothers and sisters in Palestine and other innocent people globally seeking freedom from their oppressors. This is a collective call to action and one where we must ensure that our efforts to dismantle harmful biases become a guiding light amid the fog of false narratives, safeguarding our right to live in harmony, dignity, and peace.

We cannot be free until they are all free.

Nilly Ilgüy

Nilly Ilgüy

Nilly Ilgüy is a multi passionate, burgeoning digital creator, and journaler. She loves creative activities that explore self expression and facilitates events for women to explore theirs.