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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Gaza journalists self-censor out of fear of Hamas

From the New York Times (h/t Elder Brother of Ziyon):
...Hamas seems confused about how to quash Fatah protests and simultaneously deal with the news media. Trying to nurture a reputation for honesty and legal behavior since they conquered Gaza in bloody fighting in June, Hamas’s leaders promise journalists freedom of action while the police intimidate them.

One result is a kind of self-censorship, local journalists say, that goes beyond what they traditionally practiced under Fatah, which also tried to pressure, manipulate or own the Palestinian press....

Palestinian journalists describe a confusing situation, in which Hamas, as a fundamentally religious organization new to politics and used to obedience, is putting undue pressure on the news media, especially with regard to the use of television images and photographs. Hamas is in a fierce political struggle with Fatah, and both factions are using the media at their command — the official Palestinian television and radio by Fatah, which also has its own outlets and newspapers, and Hamas’s newspapers, radio and sophisticated television channel, Al Aksa, which is modeled on Al Minar, which is run by Hezbollah.

Each accuses the other of being infidels and in the service of outsiders — Fatah says Hamas serves Iran; Hamas says Fatah serves Israel and America. In addition to children’s shows urging war against Israel and the Israeli occupation, praising martyrdom and attacking Jews, Hamas television runs a news scroll underneath devoted entirely to Hamas-flavored news. The official Palestinian Authority television, hard to see now in Gaza, is only a little more balanced.

Fatah in the West Bank has closed Hamas-affiliated media outlets and charities and prevented Hamas-supported newspapers from circulating or Hamas television from broadcasting. Equipment has been confiscated or destroyed, and six Hamas journalists have been arrested, Mr. Nounou said, and 12 more beaten. But here in Gaza, Hamas has done the same to Fatah and the Palestinian Authority-controlled media. At least eight outlets were closed, including three newspapers, and many Fatah journalists have fled.

Ahmad Odeh, of Maan news agency, said: “This government came into power by a coup, and in Ramallah, there is an emergency government that rules by decree. There’s no democracy on either side. What do you expect?”

Local reporters, including those working for international news agencies, have been pressured, as they used to be pressured under Fatah, but now with a degree more menace. Yet Hamas leaders say they are committed to freedom of speech, while demanding that journalists report “objectively.”...

Under Fatah, “the rules were essentially clear,” said another local journalist working for a different news agency. “Don’t attack Yasir Arafat or Muhammad Dahlan or Rashid Abu Shbak,” all prominent Fatah figures, “and don’t touch the issue of corruption. That was basically all. Now, of course, it’s Abbas and a few other figures.”

But Hamas, he said, “isn’t used to criticism and doesn’t like it.” While Fatah is essentially a broad, secular movement and disorganized, “Hamas is less accepting of advice or criticism, and it’s less experienced and open to the world.”

Since June, he said, Gaza is under a kind of military rule, and everyone is wary.

“People aren’t sure what the boundaries are, and Hamas tries to reassure them, but people feel a little afraid,” he said. “Self-censorship is more devastating than censorship laws. And the self-censorship, especially for journalists, is more depressing and complicated than before.”
Which means that things in Hamastan and Fatahland are worse than is being reported.

And one of my problems when trying to mention things happening in Gaza is that I am relying on the Palestine Press Agency, which seems to be only barely reliable. For example, tonight they reported on Hamas attacking a 12-year old boy in a camp for displaying a picture of a previous victim of a Hamas assassination. Is it true? No one else will dare report this information and Palpress hates Hamas with a passion. So what's the truth in Gaza? Unfortunately, we will not know based only on the reports of journalists who are too afraid to actually report.