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Tuesday, January 18, 2005

News agencies employ Palestinian "reporters" on PA payroll

Where the reporting stops
jpost staff, THE JERUSALEM POST Jan. 18, 2005

Palestinian journalist Majida al-Batsh surprised most of her colleagues late last year by announcing that she would run in the election for the chairmanship of the Palestinian Authority.

Batsh, a resident of the Old City of Jerusalem, had been working for many years as a Palestinian affairs correspondent for the French news agency, Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Before she presented her candidacy in the January 9 vote, Batsh was a frequent panelist on Israel TV Channel 1's Politica talk show, where she would speak more like a representative of the Palestinians than an impartial journalist from an international news organization.

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The story of candidate Batsh, who wound up withdrawing her candidacy weeks ahead of the vote, highlights many concerns about the identity and political affiliation of several Palestinian journalists employed by international news organizations and TV networks to cover the Palestinian issue. It also underlines concerns about the credibility of much foreign news coverage in general in regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In addition to her work at the French news agency, Batsh was also a reporter for the PA's official organ, Al-Ayyam,. In other words, she was also on the PA's payroll, since the Ramallah-based newspaper was established and is financed by the PA. Al-Ayyam's editor, Akram Haniyeh, has been listed as an adviser to Yasser Arafat.

But Batsh was not the only journalist at AFP who was working simultaneously for the PA. One of the agency's correspondents in the Gaza Strip is Adel Zanoun, who also happens to be the chief reporter in the area for the PA's Voice of Palestine radio station.

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IT IS perhaps less logical when the covering of Palestinian affairs is entrusted only to Palestinian journalists, some of whom are openly affiliated with the PA or other political groups.

"I will never work on a story that defames my people or leadership," boasts a Palestinian "fixer" (mediator/guide/translator) who works on a regular basis with many foreign journalists. "It is my duty to protect my people against Israeli propaganda."

AFP is not the only member of the international news media to employ "journalists" who see themselves as "foot soldiers" serving the Palestinian cause. Other parts of the foreign media frequently allow their stories to be filtered through such fixers-consultants.

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The Associated Press also has a journalist – Muhammad Daraghmeh – who works for the PA's Al-Ayyam. "It's like employing someone from the [Israeli] Government Press Office or one of the Israeli political parties to work as a journalist," comments a veteran foreign journalist based in Israel.

Daraghmeh's byline has continued to appear in Al-Ayyam; AP's Jerusalem bureau chief denies that he works for the paper.

Adds the veteran foreign journalist: "I also know of cases where former security prisoners have been hired as journalists and fixers for major news organizations, including American networks. Can you imagine what the reactions would be if they hired an Israeli who had been in jail for one reason or another?"