21 June 2024
RTE- Report the Truth

5 February 2024

Re: RTÉ's reporting on the Israeli genocide of the Palestinian people

Dear Mr. Bakhurst,

We are writing to you to express our deep concern and frustration at RTÉ's limited and biased reporting on Israel's ongoing genocide of the Palestinian people. An estimated 100,000 people took part in the national march in Dublin on Saturday 13 January 2024; this sent a powerful message of solidarity by the people of Ireland, who are increasingly reliant on social media and international news networks such as Al Jazeera for information about the Palestinian genocide.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), since 7 October 2023 Israel's indiscriminate bombing of Gaza has killed more than 27,000 Palestinians, including more than 11,500 children, 122 journalists and media workers, well over 300 medical workers, and at least 142 UN staff members (these figures do not include those missing beneath the rubble). More than 66,287 people have been injured, of whom 70% are woman and children. According to UNICEF, "at least 17,000 children in Gaza are unaccompanied or separated" from their parents. Israel has dismantled the medical system (two-thirds of Gaza's hospitals are no longer operational, and the remaining hospitals are only partially functional, according to the World Health Organization) and is deliberately withholding food and medical aid to 2.3 million people including 1.1 million children. People are suffering extreme burns without pain relief, and every day 10 children undergo limb amputations without anaesthetic. Medics on the ground have described "scenes of unimaginable horror". Those who are not killed by bombs are being killed by starvation, injuries, and the spread of disease.

As the Israeli army pushes deeper into the Gaza Strip, coming into direct contact with displaced civilians, numerous accounts of atrocities have emerged, including summary executions, torture, sniping of civilians, and mistreatment of detainees. Additionally, violence against Palestinians has escalated outside of Gaza with

372 Palestinians killed, including 94 children, in incidents across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

It is the duty of RTÉ, as a national broadcaster funded in part by television license fees, to inform the Irish public accurately and adequately about matters of national and international importance. Israel's assault on Gaza clearly merits intensive and ongoing coverage, as well as discussion and analysis. No other world event over the last 50 years has drawn many thousands of Irish people to protest on the streets for 15 consecutive weeks. On New Year's Eve alone, more than 30 protest marches and vigils were held nationwide - from Cobh to Letterkenny and Howth to Kinvara - in support of Palestinian rights and against Israeli aggression.

We believe that RTÉ is failing in its duty to provide adequate and accurate coverage of the enfolding genocide in Gaza and the West Bank. We draw your attention to the following issues in particular and ask that you respond to them:

RTÉ's framing of the genocide in Gaza

In its news coverage on television and radio, RTE consistently frames Israel's assault on Gaza as a 'war' between two conflicting parties, rather than as a one-sided genocidal assault on 2.3 million defenceless civilians in an occupied and besieged territory. By using language such as "intense fighting" and "targeting of Hamas strongholds", and avoiding terms like "genocide" and "war crimes", RTÉ gives the impression to its listeners, viewers and readers that Israel is primarily pursuing a military objective, and that civilian casualties are merely an unfortunate side-effect. In fact, as the EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell noted, the rate of destruction and civilian death in Gaza is proportionally even greater than in Germany during World War II.

The Israeli military has frequently stated that its intention is to cause maximum destruction of Gaza and not to discriminate between civilian and combatant. This was echoed by the Israeli Minister of the Interior, Eli Yishai, when he said: "The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages", and by Benjamin Netanyahu's repeated use of the biblical reference to Amalek, where the Israelites were commanded by their god to destroy and kill everything and everyone, and "neither spare man, woman, child, infant or cattle". All major international human rights organisations have accused Israel of committing war crimes, including collective punishment, denial of food and water, and the use of prohibited munitions against civilians. More than three months ago, nearly 800 human rights lawyers and scholars of genocide studies signed a statement warning of impending genocide in Gaza. The argument that Israel's actions constitute genocide was bolstered by a preliminary ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on 26 January 2024. The court found, pending full judgement, that South Africa's case against Israel was plausible, and ordered Israel to halt its attacks on civilians and allow aid into Gaza. Former Irish President Mary Robinson hailed this ruling as landmark of international humanitarian law. The consensus expressed by some of the world's leading jurists and human rights experts should inform RTE's reporting.

Double standard - Ukraine versus Gaza

RTÉ's coverage of the Israeli assault on Gaza starkly contrasts with the national broadcaster's reporting on Russian attacks on civilians in Ukraine, even though the destruction of civilian lives and infrastructure in Gaza vastly outweighs anything we've seen in Ukraine. For example, just six weeks into the Ukraine war, Claire Byrne hosted a discussion on her radio show about whether Russia was guilty of genocide. After sixteen weeks of unprecedented civilian slaughter, RTÉ has yet to feature any similar discussion of genocide in Gaza, despite a far stronger weight of evidence and expert opinion that Israel is committing genocide and despite the recent ICJ ruling.

Failure to report from within Gaza

Israel blocks international journalists from entering Gaza, has killed more than 120 Palestinian journalists, and imposes frequent communication blackouts, a deliberate tactic to stifle accurate reporting. RTÉ has not called out this violation of press freedom. RTÉ uses correspondents based in Israel to report on breaking news there, yet it has not reported from within Gaza or even Egypt. Nor has RTÉ worked with or reported on the hundreds of brave reporters - professionals and citizen journalists - who document the genocide of their people in Gaza.

Failure to focus on Israel's targeting of journalists

RTÉ has a professional/ethical obligation cover the murder of journalists and their families in Gaza. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has pointed out has said that it is "particularly concerned about an apparent pattern of targeting of journalists and their families by the Israeli military." The International Federation of Journalists has reported that more than two-thirds of the journalists killed worldwide in 2023 had been killed in Gaza. Reporters without Borders have already filed two complaints with the International Criminal Court against Israel for its targeting of journalists.

Failure to identify war crimes

Israel has targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure to an extent unseen in any conflict since World War II. In addition to journalists (see above), the IDF also routinely targets medics, teachers, scientists, ambulance crews, and aid workers. Israel, which possesses surveillance data on every inch of Gaza, has destroyed every university in the territory, attacked 346 schools, decimated the health system, repeatedly bombed refugee camps, and tortured prisoners, including children. RTÉ has a duty to unequivocally identify such actions as war crimes.

Failure to adequately report on the situation of Palestinian-Irish families

Compared to its extensive coverage of the capture and release of Emily Hand, the daughter of an Irish citizen, RTÉ TV and Radio have reported little about the Irish citizens still trapped in Gaza and prevented from leaving by Israel, notably Zak Hania, as well as the experiences of Irish residents and citizens who have lost family and friends in this genocide.

Privileging the Israeli government narrative, while failing to provide context on the occupation

Despite official Israeli sources' well documented track record of fabrication and disinformation, RTÉ frequently presents statements from them unchallenged, while casting doubt on information provided by Palestinian sources. An example of this is the preface "Hamas-run health ministry" added to casualty figures from Gaza, even though that same Gazan health ministry is known to have provided reliable figures during previous assaults on Gaza. Furthermore, RTÉ's television and radio reports frequently frame the assault on the civilian population of Gaza as a response to the Hamas attack of 7 October, yet this has clearly moved far beyond self-defence and even beyond punitive reprisal, into the realm of politicide and genocide.

In much of its reporting on Gaza, RTÉ fails to provide adequate contextual information on Israel's long history of oppression and abuse of the Palestinian people. As the UN Secretary General António Guterres noted in his address to the Security Council on 24 October: "While nothing can justify the deliberate killing, injuring and kidnapping of civilians, it is important to also recognize the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum. The Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation". There is consensus among all major regional and international human rights organisations (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, B'Tselem, and Yesh Din) as well as among most experts in international humanitarian law (current and multiple former UN Special Rapporteurs, Harvard Law School) that the Israeli state is guilty of the crime of apartheid as defined by the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court ("an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group"). Ireland, as a party to the ICC, and as a country that played a leading role in isolating and dismantling the Apartheid regime in South Africa, has a particular duty to take seriously the accusations of apartheid against the state of Israel.

Failure to adequately report on Israeli crimes against Palestinians in the West Bank

In 2023 alone, more than 500 Palestinians were murdered by Israeli soldiers and settlers in the West Bank.

Murdered is the correct term because in the vast majority of cases these people were unarmed, many were killed in their homes, and their killers enjoy impunity. More than 200 of them were killed before 7 October, which Israel continues to use as its pretext to justify all violence committed against Palestinians. RTÉ needs to report on the daily reality of settler violence, administrative detention, medical neglect in prisons, solitary confinement, forced confessions under torture, house demolitions, and theft of property.

Like most Western media outlets, RTÉ has reported on Israeli claims of mass rape committed by Hamas on 7 October, despite an absence of forensic or eyewitness evidence. By contrast RTÉ has not reported on the many well documented cases of abuse, including sexual abuse and rape, committed against Palestinians (females and males) in Israeli detention. Coverage of Israeli crimes in the West Bank, where Hamas has had no presence since 2006, provides an essential corrective to the narrative that what Israel does in Gaza is a response to Hamas.

Failure to adequately report on protests in Ireland

When tens of thousands of people show up to protests in Dublin in mid-winter, this is a powerful expression of public will. Since 7 October, hundreds of protests, rallies and vigils have been held throughout Ireland in support of Palestinian rights and against Israeli aggression. Irish people of all ages and from all walks of life are expressing their revulsion at what is being done to the Palestinian people. It is RTÉ's duty as the national broadcaster to consistently cover this.

Asymmetry in platforming Israeli and Palestinian voices

RTÉ, in its radio and television broadcasts, has frequently featured statements by and interviews with Israeli government sources, including the Israeli ambassador, Dana Ehrlich. In most cases, Israeli representatives or advocates are able to present their views unchallenged by a Palestinian perspective. RTÉ should maintain a critical approach when interviewing Israeli representatives and balance this by interviewing well known Palestinian advocates such as Dr Salman Abu Sitta, Omar Barghouti, Mohammed El Kurd, or Noura Erakat.

There are also many Palestinians living in Ireland who would be willing to appear on RTÉ to present their perspective. If you are interested in interviewing any of them, we will be happy to provide you with contact details.

Deprioritizing the genocide in news reports and analysis

Perhaps the most egregious of all RTE's failures in relation to the genocide of the Palestinian people is one of omission. Despite ongoing daily bombardment in Gaza claiming hundreds of lives, brutal daily attacks by soldiers and settlers in the West Bank, and the engineering of a famine in Gaza, RTÉ has relegated this issue to the "back burner" in its news coverage. In addition to failing in its duty to adequately inform the Irish public about the ever-worsening humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, RTÉ is diverting its focus just as the assault on Gaza threatens to ignite a major global war, as many military and international relations experts now warn.

We hope that you will seriously consider these points and respond to each of them. Mothers Against Genocide and Social Rights Ireland, who drafted this letter, raised these same points with you in December and requested a meeting to discuss their concerns about RTÉ's coverage of the Palestinian genocide. You did not respond to that request. We ask that you do so now.

Yours sincerely,

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