Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Sorry about the length folks, but this really needs to be read in its entirety:


"THE INFLUENCE OF PALESTINIAN ORGANIZATIONS ON FOREIGN NEWS REPORTING"

by Dan Diker - March 27, 2003

Since the outbreak of Palestinian violence in September 2000, Palestinian
leaders have succeeded in using the international news media to mobilize
world opinion in favor of the Palestinian narrative, depicting the
Palestinian David defending his homeland against the Israeli Goliath.
Televised images of Palestinian suffering portray a human drama that wins
the news media war. As a senior source associated with an international
news organization said recently, “Television loves emotions and cares less
about facts. The Palestinians don't care about losing people, and the
Israelis can't fight that.”[1]

Most foreign correspondents, and particularly local Palestinian stringers
who report from the West Bank and Gaza for Jerusalem-based foreign news
bureaus, operate under an unspoken but firm set of rules. They avoid
reporting stories involving widespread human rights abuses, high-level
corruption and financial mismanagement, and violence between Palestinian
groups that could prove embarrassing to Arafat and senior Palestinian
officials.[2]

According to a 2001 report by the Independent Committee for Protection of
Journalists, in the nearly seven years since the Palestinian National
Authority assumed control over parts of the West Bank and Gaza, Chairman
Yasser Arafat and his multi-layered security apparatus have muzzled local
press critics via arbitrary arrests, threats, physical abuse, and the
closure of media outlets. Over the years, the Arafat regime has managed to
frighten most Palestinian journalists into self-censorship.[3]

The Palestinian Authority does not maintain an official press center
similar to Israel's Government Press Office. However, the Ramallah-based
Palestine Media Center (PMC) is described as an independent official
institution established and directed by Yasser Abed Rabbo, Minister of
Culture and Information of the Palestinian National Authority.[4] The PMC
is heavily funded by the European Union; it may not be a coincidence,
therefore, that European news organizations have largely avoided reporting
stories that are critical of the Palestinian Authority.[5]

According to an Arab-Israeli journalist who assists Jerusalem-based
foreign media outlets, Abed Rabbo views media relations as an extension of
the Palestinian cause.[6] The PA information minister made this idea clear
to an official Foreign Press Association (FPA) delegation that met with
him in September 2001 to protest Palestinian Authority threats against
foreign and Palestinian freelance photographers who took pictures of
Palestinian street celebrations following the September 11th attacks on
the U.S. Abed Rabbo reportedly told the senior FPA representatives in no
uncertain terms, Palestinian national interests would come before freedom
of the press.[7]

A former Arab and Palestinian affairs reporter for Israel Television noted
that Palestinians have not yet developed an appreciation for a free news
media. In Arabic, the word for news media (i'laam) is the same word that
is frequently used for public relations.[8]

* * *

Most foreign journalists are not fluent in either Arabic or Hebrew,
rendering them dependent on a network of local Palestinian fixers, mostly
young, educated Palestinians who speak Arabic, Hebrew, and English.
Palestinian fixers, who until recently have been fully accredited by
Israel's Government Press Office, know their way around Israel, the West
Bank and Gaza, arrange interviews with Palestinian officials, and
introduce journalists to their own circle of local acquaintances. As a
rule, working with a good fixer translates into getting interviews with
top Palestinian leaders and moving safely around the territories.

An Arabic-speaking Israeli journalist who avoids using fixers noted that
most fixers trumpet the PLO narrative and terminology of the conflict,
which frequently collides with established historical facts and
international law. Moreover, Palestinian security forces watch carefully
what is said by local residents to both foreign and local journalists.[9]

According to senior foreign news sources based in Jerusalem, the vast
majority of Palestinian fixers -- often close friends of Palestinian
employees of Jerusalem-based foreign news agencies -- are ideologically
motivated by the Palestinian cause, and actively encourage journalists to
report exclusively on the evils of the Israeli occupation, rather than on
the lack of democratic freedoms or human rights abuses in the West Bank
and Gaza.[10]

* * *

Numerous foreign reporters have learned that interviews with the PA
chairman are not open invitations to ask tough questions. On March 29,
2002, Arafat hung up on CNN's Christianne Amanpour during a telephone
interview from his besieged Mukata compound after Amanpour asked the PA
leader repeatedly whether he was able to rein in the violence.[11]

In another instance, in 1999, a reporter from the German newspaper Der
Spiegel asked Arafat about widespread reports of corruption in the
Palestinian Authority. Upon hearing the question, Arafat reportedly
accused the reporter of being a member of the Israeli security services
and promptly had him removed. The German reporter's fixer, a former
Palestinian diplomat who had been based in Germany, convinced his foreign
client to write Arafat a letter of apology, but Arafat refused to allow
the reporter to return.[12]

On January 6, 2003, Seif al-Din Shahin, a senior Gaza correspondent for
Qatar's Al Jazeera News Agency, was arrested by Arafat's Palestinian
General Intelligence on charges of inflicting damage to the interests and
reputation of the Palestinian people and their struggle, for reporting
that the Al Aksa Brigades, part of the PLO's military wing, had claimed
responsibility for the double suicide bombing in Tel Aviv the night
before.[13]

* * *

Palestinian camera operators, frequently residents of the West Bank, today
film the vast majority of foreign TV news coverage in the territories.[14]
Foreign news agencies have become dependent on Palestinians, since Israeli
camera people are prohibited by the IDF from working in the Palestinian
areas. Palestinian camera operators are also far less expensive than their
Israeli or foreign news colleagues.

The result is that TV news pictures, broadcast internationally from the
territories, focus daily on Palestinian dead and wounded, massive
demonstrations and funerals, close-ups of local hospital and morgue
victims, homes of mourning Palestinian families, and destroyed Palestinian
buildings and fields. Missing is a measure of balance that might show
images of the Palestinian-initiated violence, including shootings,
bombings, and rocket attacks on Israeli troops and civilians, that prompt
Israeli military responses.

Perhaps the best example of the pitfalls of reliance on Palestinian
cameramen was the filming of the death of young Muhammad al-Dura by
Palestinian cameraman Talal Abu Rahamaworking for France 2 television.
While al-Dura, apparently killed in the crossfire between Israeli troops
and Palestinian police, became a symbol of the intifada and was used as a
blood libel against Israel, the photographer later denied claiming that
the IDF killed the boy.[15]

Following several formal investigations, the raw footage of the shooting
revealed that Palestinian photographers were part of the event and
submitted edited footage to foreign networks. Another German inquiry went
even further by concluding that Palestinians staged the killing with the
cooperation of some foreign journalists and the United Nations.[16]

* * *

The lynching of two Israeli reservists inside a Palestinian police station
in October 2000 would change the rules of Western news reporting on
Palestinian violence. Nasser Atta, a Palestinian producer with ABC,
recalled on Ted Koppel's Nightline how his cameraman was beaten and his
crew prevented from filming the grisly lynchings.[17]

According to first-hand reports, Palestinian security forces also
surrounded a Polish TV crew who were beaten and relieved of their
tapes.[18] A foreign correspondent noted that in post-Ramallah where all
good will was lost, he would be a lot more sensitive about going places in
the territories.[19] A day after the Ramallah lynchings, an Italian
journalist, who had suffered a separate beating by a rioting Arab mob in
Jaffa, penned a letter in English to Palestinian officials promising never
to violate journalistic ethics by transmitting film to an embassy or
government.[20]

Following the September 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States, an
AP photographer's life was threatened by Palestinian officials for taking
photographs of widespread Palestinian street celebrations. Arafat's
Cabinet Secretary, Ahmed Abdel Rahman, reportedly said, The Palestinian
Authority cannot guarantee the life of the cameraman if the footage was
broadcast.[21] Despite a strongly-worded protest by the Foreign Press
Association to the Palestinian Authority, some foreign journalists made
peace with the fact that intimidation is a price of reporting the
conflict.[22]

* * *

Palestinian leaders have become well respected among the foreign press
corps for welcoming foreign journalists as honored guests during meetings
and interviews. Palestinian leaders also go to great lengths to make
themselves available to correspondents even at inconvenient times. For
example, PA official Saeb Erekat sent his personal chauffeured limousine
to pick up a Danish reporter and film crew at an IDF checkpoint for an
interview.[23]

In contrast, some leading foreign journalists have long complained about a
general lack of cooperation by Israeli government officials toward the
foreign press.[24] The Prime Minister's Office and IDF officials have been
known to take several hours or more before issuing responses to breaking
news in the territories, due in part to requirements of the military
censor. Israeli authorities are also often reluctant to provide
informative material to foreign news correspondents, even following terror
attacks.[25]

Danny Seaman, Director of Israel's Government Press Office, has charged
that Palestinian employees of several major international news agencies,
including the Associated Press and Reuters, regularly coordinate their
news coverage with Palestinian officials. According to the GPO, Marwan
Barghouti, leader of Fatah in the West Bank and now imprisoned in Israel,
issued early warnings to the foreign networks about impending Palestinian
shooting attacks on Gilo, so that the film crews could capture Israeli
return fire on neighboring Beit Jalla.[26]

Although Seaman's charges were rejected by Dan Perry, chairman of the
Foreign Press Association, Seaman has refused to renew press credentials
for many Palestinian journalists and producers. Avigdor Yitzhaki, director
general of the Prime Minister's Office, and Seaman's boss, commented: "Do
you think that everywhere else, anyone can receive press credentials? I
haven't seen any Iraqi journalists covering the President of the United
States."[27]

* * *

NOTES:

[1] Interview with a senior international network news official, December
8, 2002.

[2] Bassem Eid, Palestinian human rights activist, November 17, 2002.
Palestinian opposition to discussing intra-Palestinian strife with the
foreign press was also reported by a bureau chief of a major American
daily newspaper at a meeting in Jerusalem on November 26, 2002.

[3] Judy Balint, Palestinian Harassment of Journalists, Worldnetdaily.com
and Emunah magazine, February 25, 2001,
http://www.jerusalemdiaries.com/doc/20. Frequent instances of
self-censorship by Palestinian journalists were also confirmed in a
meeting with a deputy bureau chief of a leading Jerusalem-based news
agency, November 17, 2002.

[4] From the PMC website, http://www.palestine-pmc.com/about.asp.

[5] Bassem Eid, Palestinian human rights activist, November 17, 2002.

[6] According to a prominent fixer from eastern Jerusalem, who also
reports on Arab affairs for a major Israeli newspaper, November 29, 2002.

[7] Interview with a deputy bureau chief of a leading Jerusalem-based
international news agency, November 17, 2002.

[8] Moshe Cohen, former Arab affairs reporter, Israel Channel One News,
November 14, 2002.

[9] Moshe Cohen, November 17, 2002.

[10] According to a well-known Palestinian fixer who works with leading
European TV networks, November 29, 2002. Palestinian human rights activist
Bassem Eid also confirmed this point on November 17, 2002.

[11] http://www.cnn.com/2002/WORLD/meast/03/29/arafat.cnna/.

[12] Bassem Eid, November 17, 2002. For other instances of Palestinian
intimidation of the press, see Freedom House 2000 report,
http://www.freedomhouse.org/pfs2000/reports.html#ispa, and the 2000
Amnesty International Annual Report,
http://web.amnesty.org/web/ar2001.nsf/webmenafr?OpenView, Palestinian
Authority: Silencing Dissent (AI Index: MDE 21/016/2000).

[13] See HonestReporting.com,
http://honestreporting.com/articles/critiques/Tel_Aviv_Fallout.a sp.

[14] According to a senior source at a Jerusalem-based international news
organization, November 17, 2002.

[15] Who Killed Muhammad Al Dura? Blood Libel - Model 2000, Jerusalem
Viewpoints, No. 482, July 15, 2002, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Judy Balint, Palestinian Harassment of Journalists,
Worldnetdaily.com, February 25, 2001.

[18] Ibid

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] AP protests threats to freelance cameraman who filmed Palestinian
rally, September 12, 2001,
http://arabterrorism.tripod.com/terrorism3.html.

[22] Judy Balint, Palestinian Harassment of Journalists.

[23] According to Moshe Maoz, an Israeli free-lance cameraman who works
with Danish Television, December 8, 2002.

[24] Jay Bushinsky, former chairman, Foreign Press Association, in remarks
made at the Ariel Media Conference, March 3, 2002.

[25] Working Paper, Israel in the New International Environment: The Media
and Legal Arenas; The Balance of Israel's National Security, Herzliya
Conference, December 2002.

[26] Why Israel's Image Suffers, interview with Government Press Office
Director Danny Seaman, KolHair, October 13, 2002.

[27] Aviva Lori, The Seaman Code, Ha'aretz, December 27, 2002.