Red Lines

Retaliation in the media industry during the war on Gaza

In the months since October 7, Western media workers have faced a wave of retaliation for speaking up against or critically covering Israel’s war on Gaza—and in particular, for voicing support for Palestinians. In an effort to better understand the power dynamics and mechanisms behind the phenomenon, the National Writers Union tracked 44 cases of retaliation that impacted more than 100 media workers, who are disproportionately people of color.

About This Report

Since Hamas’s attack on October 7 and Israel’s subsequent military operations in Gaza, leaders of Western media companies and cultural institutions have acted to suppress the speech of media workers who seek to elevate Palestinian voices or express concern about Israel’s human rights violations. The National Writers Union (NWU) has compiled and verified 44 cases of retaliation that occurred between October 7, 2023 and February 1, 2024, which have affected more than 100 people.

The authors of this report define retaliation as any action taken by a venue, outlet, organization, or group that has negatively affected a media worker, and that was triggered by a perception that the worker’s speech and/or actions supported the Palestinian cause or criticized the government of Israel. Retaliatory action, as we define it, can come from leaders inside the workplace or from outside individuals or interest groups. These cases are particularly concerning in the context of intensifying retaliation beyond the media industry—whether in the form of institutionally condoned harassment, mass arrests, or legislative pushes that could criminalize criticism of Israel.

The data collected by NWU suggests that this retaliation has disproportionately targeted media workers of color, particularly workers of Middle Eastern or North African descent and those who identify as Muslim. Three quarters of the cases where detailed demographic data was available involved people of color or Latinx people. More than a third of the targets of retaliation were Muslims or people of Middle Eastern or North African descent. These findings suggest that newsrooms’ grand gestures toward diversity, equity, and inclusion in recent years—especially since the police killing of George Floyd in 2020—have fallen short in this ongoing crisis or were superficial all along.

While the report’s findings are not comprehensive, they offer a window into what is likely a much more widespread, systemic phenomenon.

The range of cases compiled in this report were drawn from news reports, social media posts, phone calls, and/or messages exchanged with affected individuals, as well as two surveys administered by NWU. The first survey asked workers to share their experiences of workplace retaliation for their support of Palestinians or view of the war on Gaza; the second asked workers whether and how they have self-censored speech on Israel and Palestine in response to the threat of retaliation. Every case included in the quantitative analysis was fact-checked. Incidents that could not be verified were left out of that analysis, as were incidents of potential retaliation that occurred or came to light after February 1. (At least one such case has resulted in a lawsuit.) While the report’s findings are not comprehensive, they offer a window into what is likely a much more widespread, systemic phenomenon that did not start in October 2023.

The sample of impacted workers is as diverse as NWU’s membership, including freelancers, staffers, two editors-in-chief, early-career journalists, audio workers, a playwright, a Pulitzer-prize winning author, and media workers publishing with corporate, nonprofit, and academic organizations. The majority of cases concern media workers in the United States, yet given NWU’s international membership, they also include people from around the world, employed by outlets in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and countries in Europe.

In the West, there is a long history of suppressing Palestinian voices and viewpoints critical of Israel. But since October 7, this suppression has become one of the most urgent issues facing media workers. While Western media workers who have ties to the Middle East and North Africa and offer distinct insight into the war on Gaza are being muzzled and reprimanded—prevented from doing their jobs—Palestinian journalists on the ground are being killed en masse.

As this report goes live, at least 102 Palestinian, four Israeli, and three Lebanese media workers have been killed in the region since October 7, according to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). The Israeli military has shown a blatant disregard for the lives of media workers in Gaza. In fact, there is clear evidence that the Israeli military has intentionally targeted those wearing press vests. For example, on October 13, Israeli forces targeted and killed a journalist and wounded six others, according to investigations from Reuters, AFP, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International. As a sister union of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, NWU condemns the deadly violence, smear campaigns, and deprivation that the Israeli state is currently inflicting on journalists in the entire Occupied Palestinian Territory and the surrounding region.

When management at media organizations keep their employees in the West from critically covering the Israeli government, highlighting extreme violence on social media, or advocating for the protection of their colleagues, they contribute to the escalating violence that is materially affecting the most vulnerable media workers in Gaza. They also risk undermining several core journalistic imperatives—including the imperative to minimize harm. In other words, retaliation is just as much a media ethics issue as it is a labor issue.

More Information and Opportunities for Action:

For updates on the Freelance Solidarity Project’s organizing around retaliation and violence against media workers, sign up here. To report an incident of retaliation, fill out this survey. Or to organize with us, join the National Writers Union.