‘Overwhelming’ bias revealed in new report on UK media’s coverage of Israel-Palestine conflict

Researchers at the Centre for Media Monitoring analysed more than 200,000 news items in the month following 7 October and found coverage to be ‘disproportionately biased towards a pro-Israeli framing and narrative’

Researchers at the CfMM examined nearly 177,000 broadcast clips, including segments from TalkTV, Sky News and GB News. Artwork by Hyphen
Researchers at the CfMM examined nearly 177,000 broadcast clips, including segments from TalkTV, Sky News and GB News. Artwork by Hyphen

A new report has detailed “overwhelming” evidence of bias in coverage of Israel’s war on Gaza in the weeks following 7 October, finding that sections of the UK media have consistently silenced Palestinian voices, misrepresented their views and perpetuated Islamophobic tropes.

Researchers at the Centre for Media Monitoring (CfMM), an arm of the Muslim Council of Britain, examined nearly 177,000 broadcast clips and 25,515 online news articles published between 7 October and 7 November 2023. The broadcasts were from 13 channels operated by media organisations including Al Jazeera English, the BBC, Channel 4, ITV, Sky News and right wing outlets GB News and TalkTV.

The CfMM report, Media Bias: Gaza 2023-2024, also examined news websites published by 28 media organisations including the New Statesman, Economist, Daily Mail, Sun, Mirror, Independent, Guardian, Times, BBC and iNews.

They found that broadcasters referenced Israeli perspectives almost three times as much as Palestinians (4,311 times vs 1,598), while online news outlets presented Israeli perspectives almost twice as much (2,983 times vs 1,737).

On broadcast channels, “Israel’s right to defend itself” was promoted on 1,482 occasions, while the rights of Palestinians were mentioned 278 times, a ratio of 5 to 1.

“Our findings and evidence base point to coverage having been disproportionately biased towards a pro-Israeli framing and narrative,” said Rizwana Hamid, director of the CfMM.

Despite the significant death toll in Gaza — as of 5 March more than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed — the report found huge disparities in the language used to describe victims. 

Emotive terms such as “atrocities”, “slaughter”, and “massacre”, were 11 times more likely to be used to describe Israeli victims, compared to Palestinians. “Israeli victims of Palestinian violence are ‘killed’ while Palestinians mysteriously ‘die’,” the authors of the report said.

Writing in the foreword of the report, published on 6 March, journalist Peter Oborne said British journalists had “used every trick in the book to paint a false story of the war”. 

“They’ve twisted the facts, promoted falsehoods, collaborated with fabrications, lied by omission, and far too often failed to correct their mistakes,” he added.

The CfMM said news outlets had also failed to contextualise the 7 October attacks, which saw Hamas kill more than 1,400 Israelis and take more than 200 hostages. According to the authors, the news media largely ignored Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.

In 98,500 mentions of the term Gaza, “occupied Gaza” was only used on 28 occasions. The Al Jazeera English news channel used the term “occupied territories” 202 times, more than all other channels combined (179 mentions).

Oborne stated that while major human rights organisations including Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and the Israeli group B’Tselem have “issued long, scrupulously researched reports stating that Israel is an Apartheid state” this is “scarcely referred to let alone reported”.

Palestinians who tried to explain the 75-year occupation of Palestine were found to have been accused of “justifying the 7 October attacks”.

One example highlighted was a segment on Breakfast With Kay Burley on Sky News, which aired 10 October. During the programme, Burley falsely accused Palestinian Ambassador to the UK, Husam Zomlot of saying that “Israel had it coming”.

The report draws attention to the fact that Zomlot actually said that the “the loss of civilian lives is tragic on all sides” and “Israel knew this was coming their way”, in reference to the historic treatment of Palestinian people by Israeli forces.

Sky News later published a clarification and said it gave a “potentially misleading representation of Zomlot’s views” after the media regulator Ofcom received 1,500 complaints.

Rizwana Hamid, director of the CfMM, said the Israel-Gaza war had unleashed a number of unproven stories about Palestinians. 

On 10 October, Tel-Aviv based news channel i24 alleged that Israeli soldiers had found babies “with their heads cut off”. The report says the claims were repeated by various media outlets, but were not confirmed by Israeli officials.

Hamid said: “It has been very worrying to see the number of claims from Israeli sources being repeated without verification. The most notorious was the so-called ‘40 beheaded babies’ story which went viral and appeared on the front pages of several British newspapers. 

“As media organisations navigate the complexities of the conflict, it is imperative to uphold principles of fairness, accuracy, and inclusivity, ensuring that all voices are heard, and all perspectives are represented.”

According to the latest figures from the charity TellMAMA, incidents of anti-Muslim hate have tripled in the UK in the last four months.

The charity recorded 2,010 Islamophobic incidents, both online and offline, between 7 October and 7 February.

CfMM’s report also highlighted numerous examples of broadcast interviews that have perpetuated Islamophobic tropes.

Most notable was a Talk TV segment on 3 January 2024, in which presenter Julie Hartley-Brewer interviewed Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian physician and co-founder of the Palestinian National Initiative political party. 

During the interview, Hartley-Brewer repeatedly interrupted Barghouti, and at one point, said: “Maybe you’re not used to women talking … sorry to have been a woman speaking to you”.

“Such outbursts are not only unprofessional but are religiously aggravated and draw on the Islamophobic trope of Muslims being oppressive towards women and not allowing women to speak in public,” the report said.

Another example of where guests were allowed to perpetuate anti-Muslim tropes include an appearance on Talk TV on 15 February by Trevor Kavanagh, former political editor of the Sun. During the segment, Kavangh said: “By the very definition of being a Muslim voter you are going to be anti-Jewish.”

A spokesperson for UK media regulator Ofcom said the regulator has received 27,847 complaints about coverage of the war since October. 

“We play a crucial role in preserving the integrity of broadcast news and current affairs programming, by upholding standards of due impartiality and due accuracy. Complaints about this content — on a range of channels — are being prioritised by our team.”

Hyphen has approached GB News, TalkTV and Sky News for comment.

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