US media experts demand review of New York Times story on sexual violence by Hamas on Oct. 7

US media experts demand review of New York Times story on sexual violence by Hamas on Oct. 7
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Updated 03 May 2024
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US media experts demand review of New York Times story on sexual violence by Hamas on Oct. 7

US media experts demand review of New York Times story on sexual violence by Hamas on Oct. 7
  • 64 American journalism professionals sign letter accusing the newspaper of failing to do enough to investigate and confirm the evidence supporting the allegations in its story
  • It concerns a story headlined ‘Screams Without Words: Sexual Violence on Oct. 7’ that ran on the front page of the newspaper on Dec. 28

CHICAGO: Sixty-four American journalism professionals signed a letter sent to New York Times bosses expressing concern about a story published by the newspaper that accused Palestinians of sexual violence against Israeli civilians during the Oct. 7 attacks.
It concerns a story headlined “Screams Without Words: Sexual Violence on Oct. 7” that ran on the front page of the newspaper on Dec. 28 last year.
In the letter, addressed to Arthur G. Sulzberger, chairperson of The New York Times Co., and copied to executive editors Joseph Kahn and Philip Pan, the journalism professionals, who included Christians, Muslims and Jews, demanded an “external review” of the story.
It is one of several news reports by various media organizations that have been used by the Israeli government to counter criticisms of the brutal nature of its near-seven-month military response to the Hamas attacks, during which more than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed and most of the homes, businesses, schools, mosques, churches and hospitals in Gaza have been destroyed, displacing more than a million people, many of whom now face famine.
The letter, a copy of which was obtained by Arab News, states that “The Times’ editorial leadership … remains silent on important and troubling questions raised about its reporting and editorial processes.”
It continues: “We believe this inaction is not only harming The Times itself, it also actively endangers journalists, including American reporters working in conflict zones, as well as Palestinian journalists (of which, the Committee to Protect Journalists reports, around 100 have been killed in this conflict so far).”
Shahan Mufti, a journalism professor at the University of Richmond, a former war correspondent and one of the organizers of the letter, told Arab News that The New York Times failed to do enough to investigate and confirm the evidence supporting the allegations in its story.
“The problem is the New York Times is no longer responding to criticism and is no longer admitting when it is making mistakes,” he said. The newspaper is one of most influential publications in the US, he noted, and its stories are republished by smaller newspapers across the country.
This week, the Israeli government released a documentary, produced by pro-Israel activist Sheryl Sandberg, called “Screams Before Silence,” which it said “reveals the horrendous sexual violence inflicted by Hamas on Oct. 7.” It includes interviews with “survivors from the Nova Festival and Israeli communities, sharing their harrowing stories” and “never-before-heard eyewitness accounts from released hostages, survivors and first responders.”
In promotional materials distributed by Israeli consulates in the US, the producers of the documentary said: “During the attacks at the Nova Music Festival and other Israeli towns, women and girls suffered rape, assault and mutilation. Released hostages have revealed that Israeli captives in Gaza have also been sexually assaulted.”
Critics have accused mainstream media organizations of repeating unverified allegations made by the Israeli government and pro-Israel activists about sexual violence on Oct. 7, with some alleging it is a deliberate attempt to fuel anti-Palestinian sentiment in the US and help justify Israel’s military response.
Some suggest such stories have empowered police and security officials in several parts of the US to crack down on pro-Palestinian demonstrations, denouncing the protesters as “antisemitic” even though some of them are Jewish.
New York Mayor Eric Adams, for example, asserted, without offering evidence, that recent protests by students on college campuses against the war in Gaza had been “orchestrated” by “outside agitators.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the protests against his country’s military campaign in Gaza are antisemitic in nature.
Jeff Cohen, a retired associate professor of journalism at Roy H. Park School of Communications at Ithaca College, told Arab News The New York Times story was “flawed” but has had “a major impact in generating support for Israeli vengeance” in Gaza.
He continued: “Israeli vengeance has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of civilians. That’s why so many professors of journalism and media are calling for an independent investigation of what went wrong.
“That (New York Times) story, along with other dubious or exaggerated news reports — such as the fable about Hamas ‘beheading babies’ that President Biden promoted — have inflamed war fever.”
Cohen said the US media “too often … have promoted fables aimed at inflaming war fever,” citing as an example reports in 1990 that Iraqi soldiers had removed babies from incubators after their invasion of Kuwait. The assertions helped frame anti-Iraqi public opinion but years later they were proved to be “a hoax,” he added.
“On Oct. 7, Hamas committed horrible atrocities against civilians and it is still holding civilian hostages,” Cohen said. “Journalists must tell the truth about that, without minimizing or exaggerating, as they must tell the truth about the far more horrible Israeli crimes against Palestinian civilians.
“The problem is that the mainstream US news media have a long-standing pro-Israel bias. That bias has been proven in study after study. Further proof came from a recently leaked New York Times internal memo of words that its reporters were instructed to avoid — words like ‘Palestine’ (‘except in very rare cases’), ‘occupied territories’ (say ‘Gaza, the West Bank, etc.’) and ‘refugee camps’ (‘refer to them as neighborhoods, or areas’).”
Mufti, the University of Richmond journalism professor, said belligerents “on both sides” are trying to spin and spread their messages. But he accused Israeli authorities in particular of manipulating and censoring media coverage, including through the targeted killing of independent journalists, among them Palestinians and Arabs, and said this was having the greatest impact among the American public.
“Broadly speaking, a lot of the Western news media, and most of the world news media, do not have access to the reality in Gaza,” he said. “They don’t know. It is all guesswork.
“They are all reporting from Tel Aviv, they are reporting from Hebron, they are reporting from the West Bank. Nobody actually knows what the war looks like. It is all secondhand information.
“Most of the information is coming through the Israeli authorities, government and military. So, of course, the information that is coming out about this war is all filtered through the lens of Israel, and the military and the government.”
Mufti said the story published by The New York Times “probably changed the course, or at least influenced the course, of the war.”
He said it appeared at a time when US President Joe Biden was pushing to end the Israeli military campaign in Gaza “and it entirely changed the conversation. It was a very consequential story. And it so happens it was rushed out and it had holes in it … and it changed the course of the war.”
Mohammed Bazzi, an associate professor with the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University, told Arab News the letter demanding an “external review” of the story is “a simple ask.”
He added: “This story, and others as well, did play a role” in allowing the Israeli military to take action beyond acceptable military practices “and dehumanize Palestinians.” Such dehumanization was on display before Oct. 7, Bazzi said.
“In the Western media there seemed to be far less sympathetic coverage of Palestinians in Israel’s war in Gaza as a consequence of these stories,” he continued.
“We have seen much less profiles of Palestinians … we are beyond 34,000 Palestinians killed but we don’t have a true number or the true scale of the destruction in Gaza — there could be thousands more dead under the rubble and thousands more who will die through famine and malnutrition. This will not stop, as a consequence of what Israel has done.”
Bazzi said the Western media has contributed to the dehumanization of Palestinians more than any other section of the international media, while at the same time humanizing the Israeli victims.
“The New York Times has a great influence on the US media as a whole and sets a standard” for stories and narratives that other media follow, which is “more pro-Israel and less sympathetic to Palestinians,” he added.
Bazzi, among others, said The New York Times has addressed “only a handful of many questions” about its story and needs to do more to present a more accurate account of what happened on Oct. 7.
The letter to New York Times bosses states: “Some of the most troubling questions hovering over the (Dec. 28) story relate to the freelancers who reported a great deal of it, especially Anat Schwartz, who appears to have had no prior daily news-reporting experience before her bylines in The Times.”
Schwartz is described as an Israeli “filmmaker and former air force intelligence official.”
Adam Sella, another apparently inexperienced freelancer who shared the byline on the story, is reportedly the nephew of Schwartz’s partner. The only New York Times staff reporter with a byline on the story was Jeffrey Gettleman.
Media scrutiny of the story revealed that “Schwartz and Sella did the vast majority of the ground reporting, while Gettleman focused on the framing and writing,” according to the letter.
The New York Times did not immediately respond to requests by Arab News for comment.


Reuters denies reporting imminent Israeli attack on Lebanon following social media claims

Reuters denies reporting imminent Israeli attack on Lebanon following social media claims
Updated 23 June 2024
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Reuters denies reporting imminent Israeli attack on Lebanon following social media claims

Reuters denies reporting imminent Israeli attack on Lebanon following social media claims

LONDON: Reuters denied on Saturday that it had reported that Israel would attack Lebanon within 48 hours, after reports circulated on social media citing the news agency as saying this.
“Any claims that Reuters reported that Israel will attack Lebanon within the next 48 hours are false. Reuters did not report this,” a Reuters spokesperson said.


Women’s journalism group rescinds courage award given to Palestinian reporter in Gaza

Women’s journalism group rescinds courage award given to Palestinian reporter in Gaza
Updated 21 June 2024
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Women’s journalism group rescinds courage award given to Palestinian reporter in Gaza

Women’s journalism group rescinds courage award given to Palestinian reporter in Gaza
  • Maha Hussaini accuses International Women’s Media Foundation of bowing to pressure she says is typical of the systematic attacks Palestinian journalists face
  • Foundation’s decision follows a report by a conservative publication that accused Hussaini of support for Hamas and antisemitic comments

LONDON: A group that represents women in journalism has rescinded a Courage in Journalism award it presented this month to Palestinian journalist Maha Hussaini.

The decision by the International Women’s Media Foundation follows a report this week by the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative publication in the US, that alleged the freelance writer, who is based in Gaza, had posted messages on social media several years ago in which she praised terrorist actions by Hamas on at least two occasions and shared antisemitic cartoons.

The foundation said the comments in the posts “contradict the values of our organization,” adding: “Both the Courage Awards and the IWMF’s mission are based on integrity and opposition to intolerance. We do not, and will not, condone or support views or statements that do not adhere to those principles.”

Hussaini was named on June 10 as one of four recipients of the Courage Award, for her reporting during the war in Gaza. Her work included a story about the challenges women face giving birth at home during the conflict, and a harrowing account of a young girl who carried her paralyzed brother to safety during military bombing campaigns.

The IWMF describes itself as “a bold and inclusive organization that supports journalists where they are.” Its board and advisory council include prominent media figures such as former CNN journalist Suzanne Malveaux, the Washington Post’s Hannah Allam and CNN TV news anchor Christiane Amanpour.

Hussaini denounced the decision to rescind the award, accusing the Washington-based foundation of “succumbing to pressure” and “choosing to act contrary to courage.” She added that it “starkly demonstrated the systematic physical and moral attacks Palestinian journalists endure throughout their careers.”

Ina message posted on social media platform X, she added: “Each announcement of an award to a Palestinian journalist is systematically followed by extensive smearing campaigns and intense pressure on the awarding organizations from supporters of the Israeli occupation and the Zionist lobby.

“While some organizations uphold their principles and maintain their decision … others, regrettably, cave to the pressure and withdraw the prizes.”

Hussaini said she had “no regrets about any posts” and said her social media comments reflected her experiences of living under Israeli occupation and simply expressed support for resistance efforts.

The foundation’s decision was widely criticized by journalists and media groups. Some suggested Hussaini was the victim of a “vicious campaign,” others described the output of the Washington Free Beacon as “decadent and unethical” and said it had a history of targeting supporters of the Palestinian cause.


UK journalist Winnett will not join Washington Post as editor following backlash with staff

UK journalist Winnett will not join Washington Post as editor following backlash with staff
Updated 21 June 2024
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UK journalist Winnett will not join Washington Post as editor following backlash with staff

UK journalist Winnett will not join Washington Post as editor following backlash with staff
  • Robert Winnett is accused of using unethical methods to obtain information
  • Winnet’s candidacy faced criticism from Post staff who scrutinized his past

WASHINGTON: British journalist Robert Winnett will not be joining the Washington Post as its editor, an internal memo seen by Reuters showed, following media reports that he used unethical methods to obtain information while working with the Sunday Times.
Post publisher Will Lewis had named Winnett, a former colleague who serves as deputy editor of the Daily Telegraph, to the role earlier this month after the exit of Sally Buzbee, the first woman to lead the storied newsroom. The reversal means Winnett will remain at the Daily Telegraph, which he joined in 2007.
“It is with regret that I share with you that Robert Winnett has withdrawn from the position of Editor at The Washington Post,” Lewis said in the memo on Friday.
The New York Times reported last Saturday that Lewis and Winnett used fraudulently obtained records in articles at London’s Sunday Times newspaper. On Sunday, the Post published a report detailing Winnett’s ties to John Ford, who has admitted to using illegal methods to gain information for stories.
Lewis did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment, while Winnett declined to comment.
Daily Telegraph editor Chris Evans said in an internal memo, “I’m pleased to report that Rob Winnett has decided to stay with us. As you all know, he’s a talented chap and their loss is our gain.”
The Post’s memo showed that it has started a search for a new editor and that Matt Murray, former editor-in-chief of the Wall Street Journal, will lead the newsroom and continue in his role as executive editor until after the US elections.
The newspaper, owned by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, is one of many news outlets struggling to maintain a sustainable business model in the decades since the Internet upended the economics of journalism and digital advertising rates plummeted.
Executives at the Post last year offered voluntary buyouts across the company to reduce employee headcount by about 10 percent and shrink the size of the newsroom to about 940 journalists.
A report in the Post last month said the newspaper was planning to create new subscription tiers called Post Pro and Post Plus to draw more money from its readers after losing $77 million over the past year.


TikTok accuses federal agency of ‘political demagoguery’ in legal challenge against potential US ban

TikTok accuses federal agency of ‘political demagoguery’ in legal challenge against potential US ban
Updated 21 June 2024
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TikTok accuses federal agency of ‘political demagoguery’ in legal challenge against potential US ban

TikTok accuses federal agency of ‘political demagoguery’ in legal challenge against potential US ban
  • ByteDance-owned company said in court letter that Committee on Foreign Investment ceased negotions after submitting draft security agreement

LONDON: TikTok disclosed a letter Thursday that accused the Biden administration of engaging in “political demagoguery” during high-stakes negotiations between the government and the company as it sought to relieve concerns about its presence in the US
The letter — sent to David Newman, a top official in the Justice Department’s national security division, before President Biden signed the potential TikTok ban into law — was submitted in federal court along with a legal brief supporting the company’s lawsuit against measure. TikTok’s Beijing-based parent company ByteDance is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, which is expected to be one of the biggest legal battles in tech and Internet history.
The internal documents provide details about negotiations between TikTok and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a secretive inter-agency panel that investigates corporate deals over national security concerns, between January 2021 and August 2022.
TikTok has said those talks ultimately resulted in a 90-page draft security agreement that would have required the company to implement more robust safeguards around US user data. It would have also required TikTok to put in a “kill switch” that would have allowed CFIUS to suspend the platform if it was found to be non-compliant with the agreement.
However, attorneys for TikTok said the agency “ceased any substantive negotiations” with the company after it submitted the draft agreement in August 2022.
CFIUS did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Justice Department said it is looking forward to defending the recently enacted legislation, which it says addresses “critical national security concerns in a manner that is consistent with the First Amendment and other constitutional limitations.”
“Alongside others in our intelligence community and in Congress, the Justice Department has consistently warned about the threat of autocratic nations that can weaponize technology — such as the apps and software that run on our phones – to use against us,” the statement said. “This threat is compounded when those autocratic nations require companies under their control to turn over sensitive data to the government in secret.”
The letter sent to Newman details additional meetings between TikTok and government officials since then, including a March 2023 call the company said was arranged by Paul Rosen, the US Treasury’s undersecretary for investment security.
According to TikTok, Rosen told the company that “senior government officials” deemed the draft agreement to be insufficient to address the government’s national security concerns. Rosen also said a solution would have to involve a divestment by ByteDance and the migration of the social platform’s source code, or its fundamental programming, out of China.
TikTok’s lawsuit has painted divestment as a technological impossibility since the law requires all of TikTok’s millions of lines of code to be wrested from ByteDance so that there would be no “operational relationship” between the Chinese company and the new US app.
After the Wall Street Journal reported in March 2023 that CFIUS had threatened ByteDance to divest TikTok or face a ban, TikTok’s attorneys held another call with senior staff from the Justice and Treasury departments where they said leaks to the media by government officials were “problematic and damaging.”
That call was followed by an in-person meeting in May 2023 between TikTok’s attorneys, technical experts and senior staff at the Treasury Department focused on data safety measures and TikTok’s source code, the company’s attorneys said. The last meeting with CFIUS occurred in September 2023.
In the letter to Newman, TikTok’s attorneys say CFIUS provides a constructive way to address the government’s concern. However, they added, the agency can only serve this purpose when the law — which imposes confidentiality — and regulations “are followed and both sides are engaged in good-faith discussions, as opposed to political subterfuge, where CFIUS negotiations are misappropriated for legislative purposes.”
The legal brief also shared details of, but does not include, a one-page document the Justice Department allegedly provided to members of Congress in March, a month before they passed the federal bill that would require the platform to be sold to an approved buyer or face a ban.
TikTok’s attorneys said the document asserted TikTok collects sensitive data without alleging the Chinese government has ever obtained such data. According to the company, the document also alleged that TikTok’s algorithm creates the potential for China to influence content on the platform without alleging the country has ever done so.


Saudi Journalists Association observes International Federation meetings in London

Saudi Journalists Association observes International Federation meetings in London
Updated 20 June 2024
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Saudi Journalists Association observes International Federation meetings in London

Saudi Journalists Association observes International Federation meetings in London
  • The meetings discussed the impact of artificial intelligence on journalism and the safety of media professionals in conflict zones

LONDON: The Saudi Journalists Association took part on Wednesday as an observer in the International Federation of Journalists’ meetings in London.

The event, hosted by the UK National Union of Journalists, explored the impact of artificial intelligence on journalism and the safety of media professionals in conflict zones.

The IFJ, the world’s largest union of journalists’ trade unions, vowed to help develop journalists’ skills to adapt to the rapid evolution of journalistic tools, including the growing influence of AI.

Adhwan Al-Ahmari, chairman of the Saudi Journalists Association, emphasized the importance of collaborating with international press federations and knowledge exchange to further develop the Saudi association.

“This marks the first time the association has participated as an observer after joining the IFJ late last year,” Al-Ahmari said.

“Our goal is to play a more significant role within the federation in the coming period.”

The Saudi Journalists Association was founded in 2003 as a civil society body that acts as an umbrella for the country’s press professionals, enhancing their role and instilling a sense of responsibility towards their country and people.