Frustrated by Gaza Coverage, Student Protesters

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Nick Wilson, a student at Cornell University, has been following news about the war in Gaza closely since October. However, as a pro-Palestinian activist, he is selective about his news sources and does not trust major American media outlets’ reporting on Israel’s actions in Gaza. Instead, he relies on Al Jazeera, a news network based in Qatar, which he believes provides reliable coverage.

Many student protesters, like Nick, are looking for detailed and direct coverage of the Gaza conflict and prefer sources that present a pro-Palestinian perspective. They turn to various alternative media outlets, such as Jewish Currents, The Intercept, Mondoweiss, and independent Palestinian journalists on social media, to get the information they seek.

This trend reflects a broader shift among Generation Z, who are increasingly seeking news from a wider range of sources and questioning traditional media outlets. Israel’s recent ban on Al Jazeera’s local operations has only increased the network’s popularity among student protesters. They value Al Jazeera’s extensive on-the-ground coverage in Gaza, where it has more reporters than any other network. Al Jazeera has also made significant sacrifices to cover the conflict, with two of its journalists dying since the war began.

Ben Toff, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Minnesota, explains that Al Jazeera is becoming a trusted source for many young Americans who feel that U.S. media does not provide the full picture. Western media outlets often have limited access to Gaza, but Al Jazeera is recognized for its raw and vivid coverage of the situation there. A typical Al Jazeera report might include footage of Israeli tanks entering cities, drone shots of destroyed buildings, and scenes of Palestinians fleeing their homes.

Alina Atiq, a student at the University of South Florida, appreciates that Al Jazeera covers Middle Eastern news without a Western perspective. The network, owned by Qatar, operates from Doha and has separate newsrooms for its English- and Arabic-language content. Since October, Al Jazeera’s mobile apps have been downloaded in the U.S. nearly 300,000 times, an increase of over 200% from the previous seven months, according to Appfigures, a market research firm.

Among the alternative media outlets cited by protesters, Al Jazeera English is the most popular on social media. Its following on TikTok has grown from about 750,000 at the start of the war to 1.9 million, and it has 4.6 million followers on Instagram.

Hussein Ibish, a senior scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, notes that Al Jazeera’s Arabic-language channel is more overtly pro-Palestinian, while the English channel is subtler in its slant. Critics accuse Al Jazeera of supporting armed resistance against Israel. The Israeli government, which has called Al Jazeera a “mouthpiece” for Hamas, recently seized its broadcast equipment and shut down its operations in the country for at least 45 days.

In response, Al Jazeera has denied these accusations, stating that it broadcasts all Israeli government news conferences and videos from Hamas. The network argues that it provides diverse viewpoints and narratives and that claims of bias should be evaluated based on its journalistic standards.

The Israeli government’s actions have bolstered Al Jazeera’s reputation among student protesters. Matthew Vickers, a junior at Occidental College in Los Angeles, believes that Israel’s crackdown on Al Jazeera shows how much the country fears the network’s coverage.

Protesters often criticize mainstream American publications like CNN, The Atlantic, and The New York Times for their coverage of the Gaza conflict. They feel that these outlets do not hold Israel sufficiently accountable for Palestinian deaths or thoroughly fact-check Israeli officials. Additionally, they believe that the coverage of campus protests has focused too much on antisemitism rather than addressing Islamophobia.

Cameron Jones, a student at Columbia University and organizer with Jewish Voice for Peace, argues that mainstream media spreads misinformation and shows clear bias on the Palestine issue. This skepticism towards traditional media has driven many activists to seek out alternative sources.

Al Jazeera has struggled to find an audience in the U.S. in the past. The network launched an American channel in 2013, but it closed in 2016 due to low viewership. At the time, Al Jazeera’s coverage was seen as having an anti-American bias, which did not resonate with U.S. audiences. However, the network’s current tone is finding a receptive audience among university students, who often share a third-worldist, anti-imperial perspective.

In summary, many student activists are turning to alternative media sources like Al Jazeera for coverage of the Gaza conflict. They seek out these sources because they believe traditional American media does not provide a full or fair account of events. This shift reflects a broader trend among younger generations to diversify their media consumption and challenge mainstream narratives.

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