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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Freedom of the press, PA-style

A story I had been meaning to blog:
The Palestinian Authority has decided to ban a number of journalists from entering the presidential Mukata compound in Ramallah.

The decision is aimed at punishing the journalists because of their criticism of the PA leadership or for reporting about the activities of Hamas leaders.

Al-Jazeera reporters and TV crews are among those who now appear on the PA's blacklist. They have been denied access to the Mukata for the past two weeks.

Other journalists working for Arab and Western media outlets have also been told that they are no longer welcome to visit the compound.

The decision to ban Al-Jazeera came after the popular TV station failed to carry a live broadcast of a speech given by PA President Mahmoud Abbas in front of the PLO Central Council in Ramallah.

Instead, the station broadcast live from Damascus, where Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal was addressing a conference of radical groups.

Al-Jazeera has thus far refrained from reporting about the PA's decision to boycott the station. A source in the station said that the decision not to report about the ban was taken after the PA warned Al-Jazeera that publicizing the issue would only cause more damage to its reporters.

PA officials accused Al-Jazeera of being biased in favor of Hamas, noting that this was not the first time that the station had served as a platform for Hamas and other radical Islamic groups.

Some PA officials even went as far as demanding the closure of the Al-Jazeera offices in the West Bank. The homes and vehicles of some Al-Jazeera reporters have been either torched or stoned by Fatah activists in the West Bank in the past two years.

Earlier this week, the largest Palestinian news agency, Ramattan, decided to suspend its work in the West Bank after the PA leadership also banned its reporters from entering the Mukata.

The agency also accused the PA security forces of raiding its Ramallah offices, arresting its workers and confiscating a mobile broadcast truck.

Another journalist who has been denied access to the Mukata is Nael Nakhleh, a resident of Al-Bireh who writes from newspapers in the Gulf. Nakhleh was arrested by the PA's General Intelligence for allegedly publishing reports that reflect negatively on the PA leaders.

The PA has, over the past few years, become less tolerant toward "unfriendly" journalists, especially Palestinian newsmen who report about financial corruption and abuse of human rights in PA-controlled areas.

Seven Palestinian reporters have been arrested by Abbas's security forces in the past few months for allegedly expressing sympathy with Hamas. Most were released after being warned against publishing material that reflects negatively on Abbas and the PA leadership.
This is exactly how things were under Arafat.

As far as I can tell, Al Jazeerah has still not reported on its being blacklisted, thus buckling under to the PA's demands.

By the way, here is a picture of an al-Jazeera reporter - reporting from Jaffa in a typically anti-Israel article. He doesn't seem to have been kicked out.