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Israel and Sri Lanka: a media analysis of war crimes allegations

August 9, 2009

Just Journalism – Israel and Sri Lanka: a media analysis of war crimes allegations

How did the UK print media report the recent conflict in Sri Lanka? Was the Sri Lankan government subjected to the same level of scrutiny over the Tamil civilian death toll as was Israel for Palestinian casualties in Gaza? In both cases allegations of war crimes were made on account of reportedly indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas. UN agencies and NGOs accused Israel and Sri Lanka of disregarding the safety of the civilian populations associated with their opponents in favour of pursuing their military objectives.

Just Journalism conducted research into broadsheet newspaper coverage of war crimes allegations against Israel and Sri Lanka during the first five months of 2009. This analysis compares the volume of references to war crimes in relation to the recent conflicts in Gaza and Sri Lanka, between January and May 2009 in the British press. It indicates that the UK broadsheets took a markedly different approach to addressing the issue of war crimes in relation to Israel and Sri Lanka.

 Key findings:
– Across the five daily broadsheets, war crimes allegations in relation to Israel were addressed twice as often as war crimes allegations in relation to Sri Lanka
– Four out of five daily broadsheets associated Israel with war crimes more often than Sri Lanka. In the most extreme case, the possibility of Israeli war crimes was addressed almost four times as often as the possibility of Sri Lankan war crimes in one newspaper
– The first three months of hostilities this year between Israel and Hamas saw 75 articles addressing the possibility of Israeli war crimes in Gaza
– In contrast, during the first three months of the final phase of military operations in Tamil-held territory, only one article addressing the possibility of war crimes in Sri Lanka had been published

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