The Los Angeles Times is prohibiting staff from covering the Gaza war for at least three months if they signed a strongly-worded open letter criticizing Israel’s military operations in the region.
Earlier this month, nearly a dozen staffers at the LA Times signed the open letter condemning the Israeli government’s bombing of Gaza, and saying the military operations were harming journalists and threatening newsgathering. The letter also called on newsrooms to use language including “apartheid,” “ethnic cleansing,” and “genocide” when referring to the Israeli bombardment of Gaza.
Two people with knowledge of the situation told Semafor that staffers who signed the letter have been told by the paper’s management that they will not be allowed to cover the conflict in any way for at least three months.
The letter, published earlier this month and signed by over 1,000 current and former journalists, called for an end to Israeli military actions in Gaza which it said represented a “slaughter of our colleagues and their families by the Israeli military and government.” The letter laid out an estimate of the number of journalists and their families who had been killed in the conflict, saying Israel’s military actions “show wide scale suppression of speech.”
But it also expressed strong criticism of mainstream news organizations, which it described as too timid in their coverage of the war.
The letter argued that some news outlets have been “hesitant to quote genocide experts and accurately describe the existential threat unfolding in Gaza,” and that newsroom leaders often “undermined Palestinian, Arab and Muslim perspectives, dismissing them as unreliable and have invoked inflammatory language that reinforces Islamophobic and racist tropes.”
“We are writing to urge an end to violence against journalists in Gaza and to call on Western newsroom leaders to be clear-eyed in coverage of Israel’s repeated atrocities against Palestinians,” the letter said.
The LA Times did not respond to a request for comment. But earlier this week, LA Times top editor Kevin Merida reminded staff of the company’s ethics and fairness policy, which stated that a “fair-minded reader of the Times news coverage should not be able to discern the private opinions of those who contributed to that coverage, or to infer that the organization is promoting any agenda.”
“Feeling heard and seen are essential to a healthy newsroom, as are civility and collective responsibility. Rigor, fairness, dissent, difference, can all co-exist as qualities that lead to the best journalism,” Merida wrote in a company-wide email. “But we must maintain the integrity of that journalism, which is core to our reputation. Journalism itself is an agent for change. Having a compass to guide that work ensures that we don’t imperil it, or inadvertently cause harm to our colleagues’ ability to do their jobs,” he wrote.