NWU Report Details Retaliation Against Western Media Workers Speaking Out on Gaza War

As the world recognized Press Freedom Day on May 3, Palestinian journalists continued to be incarcerated, injured, and killed in record numbers by the Israeli military. Western media workers, meanwhile, face retaliation and obstruction for seeking to elevate Palestinian voices or simply expressing concern about the media’s lopsided coverage of the Israel-Gaza war. Some are even being pepper-sprayeddetained, and arrested while covering pro-Palestinian campus protests. 

Member-organizers with the Freelance Solidarity Project, the digital media division of the National Writers Union, are releasing a groundbreaking reportRed Lines: Retaliation in the media industry during the war on Gaza.” This is a first-of-its-kind effort to document a pattern of retaliation against Western media workers as well as the implications of the phenomenon for media coverage of the ongoing bombardment of Gaza. The report tallies 44 cases of workplace retaliation occurring between October 7, 2023, and February 1, 2024, impacting more than 100 people. It draws on data compiled from two NWU-administered surveys as well as news reports and social media posts.

The report suggests that leaders of Western media companies and cultural institutions have disproportionately targeted workers of color, particularly workers of Middle Eastern or North African descent and those who identify as Muslim. It also gives a clearer picture of the multiple forms of retaliation levied against media workers: termination, suspension, restrictions on assignments, online harassment, social media censorship, and the cancellation of speaking events. Despite the report’s limited sample size, the results hint at what is likely a much more widespread, systemic phenomenon that demands further examination. The results raise important questions about the state of journalism in the West, including political contestation over the concept of objectivity, and point to major gaps in the commitment that newsrooms have made to diversity and inclusion in recent years.

Testimony from impacted media workers highlights the ways that such retaliation is affecting coverage of what might be the most important geopolitical event in at least a decade. It also highlights the ways in which retaliation is a labor rights issue. Analysis of the cases revealed that labor unions offered some protection from actual or potential retaliation.

“Our analysis underscores the importance of ongoing labor organizing—and solidarity between full-time staff and freelance workers—across the media industry,” said Olivia Schwob, Co-Chair of the National Writers Union’s Freelance Solidarity Project (FSP-NWU). A team of two dozen FSP-NWU member-organizers collaborated to research and produce the report. “Media organizations that do not already protect their workers from political pressure and retaliation are unlikely to start on their own—workers must use our collective power to make those protections a reality.”

“As a member of the International Federation of Journalists, the National Writers Union has stood for press freedom and against political targeting of media workers since the union’s founding in 1981,” said NWU President Larry Goldbetter. “Now, we are witnessing how a coercive and retaliatory environment within the media industry can give way to the arbitrary and violent repression of the press, even in a U.S. context. It has never been more urgent to stand in solidarity with our Palestinian journalist colleagues who have been targeted with extreme violence simply for doing their jobs.”

A team of two dozen FSP-NWU member-organizers collaborated to research and produce the report, which can be found at redlines.nwu.org.