Front Page News

Des Freedman

The Israeli army’s targeted hit on an aid convoy in Gaza that killed seven World Central Kitchen workers featured on the front page of every UK national newspaper (apart from the Daily Star) on 3 April. It was the first time that Gaza had dominated all the front pages since the weeks immediately following Hamas’s attack on 7 October, and it took the murder of mostly white people to focus the papers’ attention.

Only one, the i, showed a photograph of the Palestinian killed in the attack, Saif Abutaha, a 25-year-old relief worker from Rafah. The Times, Telegraph, Express and Mirror all focused on the three British victims, members of WCK’s security team, whose images and biographies were prominently displayed. More than ten thousand Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the start of this year, but none of them have had their photographs on the front pages of those newspapers.

An examination of the more than two hundred Gaza-related photographs that have appeared on the front pages of the British papers since 7 October 2023 reveals a systematic asymmetry in their treatment of Israelis and Palestinians. This reinforces the findings of other studies of media bias, which have identified serious flaws in the language and contextual framing of both broadcast and newspaper coverage.

Even though twenty times as many Palestinians as Israelis have been killed since 7 October, Israeli hostages, their families and IDF soldiers have appeared in more front-page photos than the Palestinian victims of air strikes and ethnic cleansing. Pictures of Israeli hostages and their families are also captioned with biographical information while the vast majority of photographs of Palestinians are accompanied by no such details.

Across the entire sample of front-page images since 8 October, I found only a handful of examples in which dead Palestinians were named. The first was a Guardian story on 27 October 2023 about an Israeli air strike that killed the family of Wael al-Dahdouh, an al-Jazeera journalist, in central Gaza (al-Dahdouh himself was later injured in an Israeli drone strike). The second, on 11 February, was a Sunday Times report on the murder of six-year-old Hind Rajab. The Guardian carried the story on its front page but ran with an image of the Liverpool manager, Jurgen Klopp, who had just announced his decision to leave the club. On 23 February, the Guardian led with an illustrated story about a 16-year-old Palestinian boy, Nihal Abu Ayash, who was shot dead in the West Bank by Israeli forces.

On 23 October the Guardian ran a piece identifying the ‘names and stories’ of some of the Palestinians killed in Gaza, along with their photographs. It appeared on page six of the print edition; the cover photograph was of football fans paying tribute to the late Bobby Charlton.

Most of the images of Palestinians that have appeared on the Guardian’s front page are of anonymous children and families. The images are often very powerful and moving, but they reinforce a sense that Palestinians, when they are not being described in other contexts as ‘rock throwers’ or ‘terrorists’, are helpless, nameless and voiceless, unlike their Israeli counterparts.

It’s also revealing to see which events warrant a front-page photograph and which do not. The provisional ruling on genocide by the International Court of Justice did not earn a single lead photograph in any of the national titles on 27 January (and only four lead stories). The release or rescue of Israeli hostages has been more widely covered and illustrated. On 31 October, the same image of Ori Megidish and her family was published in the Times, Guardian, Telegraph, i and Financial Times. While the deaths of seven aid workers on 1 April have (rightly) preoccupied British newspapers, the deaths of seven hundred Palestinians on 2 December did not merit a single front-page photograph or story.

The Guardian and FT – which between them account for one-third of all the front-page photos of the conflict so far – have illustrated at least some of the atrocities perpetrated against Palestinians, yet their visual presentation continues to deny agency to Palestinian subjects. The Times meanwhile has this year featured nine front-page images of either Israeli soldiers or hostages and none of Palestinians. The Telegraph’s Gaza-related front-page photos have also tended to focus on Israeli soldiers or hostages to the virtual exclusion of Palestinians.

Palestinians and Israelis are depicted in such different ways because the story for all the UK’s national newspapers is about Israel’s fundamental right to defend itself, despite growing criticism of its tactics. Newspapers still have a powerful influence on broadcast, online and political agendas, and their visual coverage of the assault on Gaza serves British foreign policy more than it does their readers. Most people in the UK support both a ceasefire and a ban on weapons sales to Israel, and believe that Israel’s actions in Gaza are ‘violating human rights’. Not for the first time, the public are well to the left of the billionaire newspaper proprietors and, not for the first time, it feels like this is an unsustainable position.