A fireball erupts from an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City on October 9, 2023. 


Nation’ coverage of the Gaza war and the hostile media perception

Hostile media perception, better known as the hostile media effect, explains why we perceive neutral media coverage as biased against us and in favour of our opponents.

The theory explains why, for example, Kenya Kwanza supporters tend to perceive the same piece of reporting as biased against them and in favour of Azimio supporters, and vice versa.

It holds true if we are supporters of one side or hold strong opinions about an issue. This was demonstrated in a 1985 study in California, USA.

Two groups of students from Stanford University were selected to view a video about the Israeli-Palestinians conflict. It was balanced and fair to both sides.

One group strongly held pro-Israeli beliefs and the other was for Palestine. But the result was that both said the video was biased against their side.

This demonstrates classic hostile media effect. The truth of this theory is brought home to me almost every time I receive complaints of bias in Nation stories.

This is not to say the Nation coverage is never biased. Far from it. It’s to remind us that our beliefs can influence how we view the world.

This brings us to the Gaza war, the biggest international story today. The NMG doesn’t have its own correspondents in Gaza or Israel. It’s covering the war using stories filed by Agence France-Presse (AFP), headquartered in Paris.

So if you find NMG coverage biased, blame AFP or your pre-existing opinion on the conflict. Western media have been accused of biased reporting of the conflict. The BBC, for instance, has been criticised that it is biased towards either of the warring sides.

The latest criticism comes from British journalist Harry Fear, who accuses the Western media of bias in covering the Gaza conflict.

Mr Fear says there is an “overarching storytelling” based on Israeli narrative. He gives the example of the use of terminology—such as referring to those killed in Gaza as “died” and those in Israel as “killed” and focusing on unverified information about Israeli civilians while neglecting the suffering of Palestinian civilians, especially children.

Biased reporting, coupled with the hostile media effect, clouds our understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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Staying with the hostile media effect, I reproduce below a compressed version of a reader’s criticism of the Nation columnist Macharia Gaitho’s article published on Tuesday, “Condemn Hamas terrorism but do not support Israeli terrorism”.

Wachuka Mugenyu has, apparently, come to Gaitho’s article with a strong pre-existing view on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She takes exception to Mr Gaitho’s overwhelming argument that President William Ruto’s support for Israel is “misguided and overly biased” and that Israel “stands accused of terrorism “if terrorism is the indiscriminate bombing of civilian neighbourhoods and slaughter of men, women and children”.

Regurgitated propaganda

Ms Mugenyu writes: “Your comments on Israel are regurgitated propaganda. They sound like the points pushed forward by far-left extremists on the global stage.

“Hamas is a terrorist organisation that hides among civilians. So how should Israel solve that situation? You imply the Palestinians are only being ‘freedom fighters’. Is it the Hebrew people who annexed the country? It was the British and for good reasons.

“This is not even my main issue with your article. It’s the blatant parallelism of Israel and Palestine. Has Israel ever raped, pillaged and dragged back to their land innocent civilians? Has Israel ever murdered Palestinian babies in the maternity clinic and beheaded them?

“Have the Israelis ever called for the extermination of the Palestinians? Even as the Israelis get ready to invade Gaza, they’ve given time for civilians to evacuate. Have the Palestinians ever given Israel the same chance?

“The open bias you have against Israel shows that you’re already working on an uneven balance of judgement.

“My final issue is the reprimand of the President. The official statement didn’t come from a social media post. We’re still categorically for Israel. Everybody who has ever interacted with Kenya in diplomatic circles knows this about us.

“Kenya is considered one of the most important African allies of Israel. Israelis know Kenya is against all anti-Semitism. Yet you dismiss this as Christian religious zealotry, which is an ad hominem argument.”

- The Public Editor is an independent news ombudsman who handles readers’ complaints on editorial matters including accuracy and journalistic standards. Email: [email protected]. Call or text 0721989264