In numbers: How UK right-wing media’s pro-Israel Gaza war coverage dehumanises Palestinians

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Analysis: The New Arab’s research reveals how the UK media’s coverage of Israel’s war on Gaza is a case study in dehumanisation and warmongering.

For five months, global media attention has fixated on Israel’s assault on Gaza. Across the Western world, protests against Israel’s war have sharply criticised Western media reporting on Gaza.

British mainstream media coverage of the war has shown a consistent and profound bias against Palestinians from the country’s major conservative-leaning newspapers, according to a study by The New Arab.

Through a quantitative and qualitative analysis, The New Arab examined hundreds of headlines from The Times, The Telegraph, The Sun and the Daily Mail, four of the most widely read newspapers in the UK, which play a significant role in shaping public opinion. The Sun alone has approximately 30 million readers per month.

For this research, The New Arab collected all available online articles published by The Times (112), The Telegraph (106), The Sun (114) and the Daily Mail (285) between 7th October 2023 and 7th February 2024 on Gaza and Israel, for a total of 617 pieces. The headlines of these articles were then analysed for bias using three tests.

“This case study on dehumanising and negligent journalism confirms a widespread and systematic bias across much of the UK’s mainstream media, an issue Palestinians have asserted for years”

The results show that all four newspapers disproportionately favour Israeli lives and government narratives over Palestinian ones. More specifically, in their headlines, all four sources exhibit bias against Palestinians in the following three ways: uniquely deploying a vast amount of emotive language when describing Israeli suffering, amplifying Israeli justifications for violence, and qualifying Palestinian deaths.

This case studyconfirms a widespread and systematic bias across much of the UK’s mainstream media, an issue Palestinians have asserted for years as dehumanising and negligent journalism towards them– and a trend that is consistent with other analyses into Western media coverage of Israel-Palestine.

“These [new] findings are both shocking and unsurprising,” said Omar Al-Ghazzi, professor of media and communications at the London School of Economics. “A lot of people who care about being informed of what’s happening in this war have stopped getting their news from British sources,” he added.

The implications of this failure in UK journalism cannot be understated. During the period of analysis, more than 27,000 Palestinians in Gaza were killed by Israel. Today, the death toll is over 33,000 and rapidly rising, as millions face starvation.

Creating angels and demons

The New Arab’s first analysis involved a quantitative keyword search that compared the use of 35 emotive nouns, verbs and adjectives. These included graphic and demonising language, such as ‘massacre’, ‘slaughter’, ‘barbaric’, ‘monster’ and ‘terrorist’, as well as humanising and compassionate language, such as ‘heartbreaking’, ‘loved ones’ and ‘babies’.

To select these 35 words, The New Arab looked at which terms were used most frequently across the headlines analysed.

Of the 617 headlines, 44% contained one or more of the 35 emotive words when referring to Israeli victims of Hamas violence. By contrast, just 7.5% did the same when discussing Palestinian victims of Israeli violence.

Across these headlines, The New Arab also found 645 instances of emotive words used to describe Israeli victims of Hamas violence, but just 57 for Palestinian victims of Israeli violence.

UK media's use of emotive language to describe violence against Israelis vs Palestinians

The publication exhibiting the starkest discrepancy was The Sun, where a whopping 74.5% of headlines used emotive language about Israeli victims, compared to just 4.5% for Palestinian victims, or at a rate of 25 to 1.

Roughly 25 Palestinians were killed for every 1 Israeli during the time frame of this analysis.

The following headline is a good example: “EVIL UNLEASHED Hamas ‘b******s’ roasted babies alive in ovens during massacre, medics reveal as scale of terrorist depravity laid bare.” The New Arab found this type of highly-charged and graphic language to be widespread across The Sun and Daily Mail, both tabloid newspapers, as well as a litany of dehumanising terms, such as ‘beasts’ and ‘savages’, when describing Hamas.

In the rare instances when headlines used emotive language in reference to Palestinian victims of Israeli violence, the language was comparatively passive and muted.

For example, one Daily Mail headline reads: “At least 68 Palestinians, including seven children, are killed in Gaza refugee camp in one of the deadliest Israeli airstrikes since the war began as 15 IDF soldiers are also slaughtered in bloody Christmas Eve”.

“The New Arab’s analysis reveals that the headlines of these four newspapers liberally used emotive language for Israelis, but were withheld and apathetic when discussing Palestinian victims”

In this headline, as in countless others, the emotive language towards Palestinian casualties was limited to the use of “killed” and “children”, while harder-hitting and more charged language was reserved for Israeli soldiers who are “slaughtered in a bloody Christmas Eve”.

Even the use of “killed” to describe Palestinians was rare: in many headlines, Palestinian deaths were reported in the passive voice, a tactic usually designed to avoid assigning blame.

One Daily Mail headline described an Israeli airstrike “leaving 200 dead”, followed by “after Hamas rocket shattered seven-day ceasefire”. This form of add-on justification, which implicitly absolves the IDF, was frequently observed across the Daily Mail and The Sun.

In addition, The New Arab found that, across all four publications, when emotive language was used to describe Palestinians it was almost exclusively reserved for women and children, such as in this headline from The Sun: “Terrified children in Gaza and Israel are united by a horror across the divide.”

Another trend was the disproportionate focus on individual stories of the suffering of Israeli victims (or heroic tales of survival), while Palestinians’ personal stories were never voiced. For example: HARROWING SEARCH I’m poring through sick Hamas murder videos for any sign of my missing friend Shani Louk – the torment is intense, read one headline from The Sun.

The New Arab UK Media Analysis Israel-Gaza

The New Arab found that one Israeli victim, Shani Louk, was afforded more emotive headlines in The Sun than all of the newspaper’s headlines conveying Palestinian victimhood. In other words, The Sun gave one Israeli woman more humanising attention than more than 27,000 Palestinians victims across Gaza and the West Bank.

The New Arab’s analysis reveals that the headlines of these four newspapers liberally used emotive language for Israelis, but were withheld and apathetic when discussing Palestinian victims.

While Palestinian women and children “die”, the reader is presented with “tearful” and “heartwarming” Israelis whose “loved ones” are constantly “slaughtered”, “massacred”, “butchered”, or “beheaded”, by “chilling”, “evil”, and “cruel” Hamas “monsters”, “terrorists”, “savages” and “barbarians”.

“It is very clear code of how [these newspapers] are directing or seeking to influence public opinion in telling them: Israelis are the victims that you should feel solidarity with, that you should feel they are people like us, while the Palestinians you do not need to worry about them,” said Al-Ghazzi about The New Arab’s findings.

Regurgitating Israeli narratives

As a more general barometer of bias, the second analytical test run by The New Arab probed whether the 617 headlines did one or more of the following:

  • Focus exclusively on Israeli or Palestinian victims?
  • Justify or contextualise Israel’s violence or Hamas’s violence? 
  • Criticise the Israeli army/government or criticise Hamas/Palestinians? 
  • Criticise pro-Palestine supporters or pro-Israel supporters? 
  • Refer to “dead” Palestinians not “killed” Palestinians, or “dead” Israelis not “killed” Israelis?

In these two-part questions, any headline that did the former was counted as in favour of Israelis, while any headline that did the latter, was in favour of Palestinians.

The New Arab found that 64% of the headlines favoured Israel, compared to just 16% in favour of Palestinians. The remaining 20% of headlines were neutral or irrelevant to the five questions asked.

While the headlines of The Times and The Telegraph use less emotive language than tabloids like The Sun and Daily Mail (as per the previous section), both publications were found in this second test to be disproportionately (and vastly) in favour of Israel.

UK media prioritising narrative of Israelis vs Palestinians

In particular, both papers overwhelmingly focused on narratives justifying and contextualising Israel’s violence in Gaza. For example, one headline in The Times explained how “revenge” for 7th October “would be peace”.

Of special concern were the number of Telegraph headlines voicing unconditional support for Israeli violence against Palestinians, through the likes of: “Civilians in Gaza are terrorist sympathisers, warns Israeli military” or: “Israel has every right to do whatever it takes to eradicate Hamas Nazis”.

In fact, titles like these were so common that some 57% of The Telegraph’s 106 headlines were found to be voicing narratives that justified Israel’s violence in Gaza.

By contrast, narratives justifying or contextualising Palestinian violence were not voiced a single time, by any publication, across the 617 headlines seen by The New Arab.

In other words, over the course of the four month period analysed, headlines from The TimesThe TelegraphThe Sun and the Daily Mail gave precisely zero context for Palestinian violence and grievances. It would seem that Palestinian militancy just happens, so to speak, springing mindlessly from “monsters” and “evil”.

“Headlines from The TimesThe TelegraphThe Sun and the Daily Mail gave precisely zero context for Palestinian violence and grievances”

“When it comes to Palestine, there is no context given to the war and its atrocities. There are so many omissions of key facts and key contexts that explain what’s going on,” said Al-Ghazzi.

This has very real and dangerous implications, as it “amplifies the voices of those who are in power while completely silencing those who are disempowered and being slaughtered,” he added.

Another deeply concerning trend across the headlines of The Telegraph was the (frequent) justification of Israel’s attacks on Gaza hospitals, through headlines such as: “Hamas are cruelly turning hospitals into targets” and “IDF finds AK47 hidden behind MRI scanner in Gaza hospital raid”.

The Telegraph and The Times also took special interest in criticising any form of pro-Israel support, tinged with culture wars, through headlines such as: “‘Queers for Palestine’ must have a death wish” and “Only hatred of Israel unites the United Nations”.

Qualifying and undermining Palestinian death

The third and final test run on the 617 articles asked the following question: does the headline explicitly link Israeli or Palestinian suffering to violence committed by Hamas/Palestinians or the Israeli army/Israelis (respectively), without citing a source of information?

Of particular concern here was whether the newspapers were regurgitating, at face value, the statements and statistics being put out by one side’s leadership/authorities over the other’s.

Once again, The New Arab found that all four publications favoured Israel by frequently presenting violence towards Israelis as fact, while qualifying violence towards Palestinians, usually by citing Hamas as the source by way of doubting Palestinian claims.

Overall, 23.5% of headlines linked Israeli suffering to Hamas/Palestinian violence without providing a source, while just 5.5% did the same for Palestinian suffering.

For example, one Telegraph headline reads “Dozens killed in Israeli strike on Gaza refugee camp, Hamas says” while another warns “The gullible West is falling for Hamas’s fictitious death figures”.

Through caveats such as “Hamas says”, “claims Hamas” and “Hamas-run health ministry”, these headlines exhibited a pattern of undermining the statistics released by Gaza’s Ministry of Health and minimising Palestinian deaths due to Israeli violence.

“This aims to say that this is not a credible source, it is information given by a terrorist group that you cannot trust,” explained Al-Ghazzi.

Contrastingly, violence against Israelis was almost always clearly and graphically linked to Palestinian violence, without providing a source of information. Israelis are killed by a plain enemy: “Women raped by Hamas were found with nails driven into their thighs and groin and were passed around by terrorists who slaughtered them after or even during gang-rape, horrifying new witness accounts of October 7 reveal”.

On the other hand, in the headlines where Palestinian deaths are covered (if at all), the language rarely attributed the suffering to Israeli violence, thereby leaving its source a mystery.

For example, one Times headline reads: “Girl, 6, stuck in Gaza no man’s land after car comes under fire”, about Hind Rajab, who was killed when Israeli tanks opened fire on her family car.

The four publications were extremely cautious when accusing Israel of committing violence. In stark contrast, many of their headlines recklessly spread false information about Palestinian violence and Israeli propaganda without citing Israel as the source of these claims.

This included headlines describing discredited claims that Hamas beheaded babies and used hospitals as military bases. For example, one Times headline read: Israel ‘uncovers Hamas weapons under al-Shifa hospital’. Despite using quotations, no source is provided, even though Israel’s justifications for its siege of al-Shifa hospital, where tens of Palestinians were killed, have been proven to lack credibility.

“Despite a lot of evidence of Israel’s complete fabrications and lies, the British public is influenced to think of [Israel] as a credible source, as if it is not a warring side in this conflict,” Al-Ghazzi said.

“While Israeli lives and narratives are humanised, amplified and legitimised, Palestinian voices received the very opposite”

A case study in failed journalism

Across all three tests conducted in this media analysis, all four outlets showed significant bias and were vastly skewed in favour of Israel. While Israeli lives and narratives are humanised, amplified and legitimised, Palestinian voices received the very opposite.

“It is disinformation, it is dis-informing the British public about a war that is important, that their country has a policy towards and is active in,” said Al-Ghazzi. “Their coverage is inaccurate and untruthful. And given the exceptionally high death toll of this war, it’s also immoral.”

By distorting the narrative in favour of Israel, British media is influencing public opinion in support for Israel’s war on Gaza, which many experts have labelled a genocide, and enabling the continued killing of Palestinians.

This manufacturing of consent has far-reaching political and social implications. The death toll in Gaza is higher than any other major 21st century conflict, and more children have been killed in Gaza in 165 days than in all other global conflicts over the past four years.

Despite this, Westminster has refused to call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire or to condemn Israel’s violations of international law, while in the UK anti-Muslim sentiment and attacks have skyrocketed.

“In every way you want to think of it, these media outlets become complicit in the crime,” said Al-Ghazzi.

A full list of the headlines analysed by The New Arab for this study can be found here.

Sebastian Shehadi is a freelance journalist and a contributing writer at the New Statesman. Follow him on Twitter: @seblebanon

Chiri Choukeir is a freelance journalist/photojournalist with work in Lebanon’s An-Nahar and L’Orient le Jour newspapers.

Nadine Talaat is a London-based journalist writing about borders and migration, environment, and media representation. She is an Opinion Editor with The New Arab‘s editorial team. Follow her on Twitter: @nadine_talaat


2 thoughts on “In numbers: How UK right-wing media’s pro-Israel Gaza war coverage dehumanises Palestinians

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