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Major European News App Told Its Workers to Suppress Gaza Deaths, Report Finds

Employees were reportedly told not to publish headlines that could be “misconstrued” as pro-Palestinian.

Exterior view of the Axel Springer publishing house building, pictured on June 19, 2023, in Berlin, Germany.

A major news aggregator app and one of the largest media companies in Europe instructed workers to suppress news about civilian deaths in Palestine as Israel carries out its lawless massacre of Gazans, new reporting finds.

Employees at news app Upday, which reaches millions of people across a wide swath of European countries, have been told to prioritize pro-Israel sentiment in their news curation and limit news about Palestinian deaths, according to The Intercept.

This includes avoiding promoting information about Palestinian death tolls without certain limits, as well as not publishing headlines that could be “misconstrued” as pro-Palestinian, workers told The Intercept. If a story mentions comments from Israeli politicians that dehumanize Palestinians — of which there have been many — reporters are required to contextualize the comments with information about Hamas’s attack on Israel, the report found. And headlines were not to quote Palestinian militant groups, the company reportedly told employees.

“We can’t push anything involving Palestinian death tolls or casualties without information about Israel coming higher up in the story,” one worker said, referring to stories promoted via push notification. Workers said that there has been an atmosphere of discontent among employees since the company issued the directives.

Meanwhile, Upday CEO Thomas Hirsch reportedly has an Israeli flag beside his avatar in the company Slack.

Upday’s parent company, multinational German mass media giant Axel Springer, denied The Intercept’s findings. “We strongly contest the indirect allegations you make,” said Axel Springer representative Julia Sommerfeld. “Neither have we directed our journalists to ignore civilian casualties in Gaza, nor have we asked our editors to manipulate news coverage, nor was corporate management involved in any editorial decisions.”

“Upday’s editorial guidelines are based on journalistic principles and the (publicly available) Axel Springer Essentials,” Sommerfield said. Sommerfield is referring to the company’s values guidelines, which include “support[ing] the Jewish people and the right of existence of the State of Israel” and a pledge to “uphold the principles of a free market economy.” As The Intercept points out, Axel Springer has been scrutinized before for its seemingly conservative values and longtime ties to right-wing politics.

The reporting comes as Western media and other institutions are carrying out a campaign to suppress support for Palestine that hearkens back to the McCarthyist campaigns of the Cold War.

University students who have expressed solidarity with Palestine are losing jobs and getting blacklisted from companies, while others are getting doxxed. Palestinian Americans and Muslims have been getting visits from federal law enforcement agents, advocacy groups have said.

Other major Western media companies also appear to be suppressing their own journalists over Israel’s war on Palestine. Three Muslim journalists were removed from their anchor positions at MSNBC last week, shuffled around to other roles despite some staff saying they were among the most knowledgeable reporters on the issue. The company has claimed that the moves were only logistical in nature.

Also last week, after an Israeli airstrike killed a Reuters videographer who was reporting in Lebanon, the company used the passive voice to describe his killing, refusing to attribute their own reporter’s death to Israeli forces.

Moves that deprioritize voices that may be sympathetic to Palestinians work to dehumanize Palestinians; as Jamil Khader wrote for Truthout this week, the media has employed a “selective moral outrage” in terms of who deserves sympathy after the Hamas attack and who does not.

There are numerous wide-ranging political forces that aim to garner support for Israel’s apartheid. Before the latest war on Palestine, there were already over a dozen states with laws prohibiting companies from supporting the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement in solidarity with Palestine — laws that are still in place after the Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to Arkansas’s anti-BDS law earlier this year.

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