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Sunday, January 25, 2009

World press ignores Hamas' media intimidation

From the International Federation of Journalists website, posted last Thursday:
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today led a multinational delegation of journalists' unions from Europe and the Arab world into Gaza, only hours before Israel finally opened the area to the world press

The aim of the mission, says the IFJ, is to support local journalists and to investigate the problems facing media during the conflict.

The IFJ, which has condemned vigorously Israeli targeting of media and the blockade on journalists entering Gaza over the last month, today also condemned Hamas for its threats and intimidation of journalists.

"The last month has been hell for journalists working in Gaza, "said Aidan White. "It is impossible to properly investigate the media situation in Gaza without considering the difficulties facing journalists, particularly because of the Hamas regime. It is clear that Hamas are no friends of media freedom and have been ruthless in their intimidation and manipulation of the media. The situation of journalists in Gaza was already intolerable without military activity and this latest conflict has not made it any better. The IFJ is particularly concerned by Hamas' attempts to interfere in the work of Palestinian journalists. Now that the violence has stopped, it is time for all sides, including Hamas, to allow journalists to work freely."
We have seen plenty of stories about supposed Israeli violations of journalists' rights; how come the media doesn't bother to cover Hamas' overt and endemic intimidation of the press? This story was almost invisible until Hamas reacted angrily today:
De facto government’s information office on Sunday expressed astonishment about declarations made by Secretary General of the international federation of journalists Aiden White after he visited the Gaza Strip.

The statement says White accused the de facto government of suppressing freedom of press, which officials say is “completely null and false.”

White’s report on his return from the area says that “In Gaza we found evidence of intimidation by Hamas. This is completely unacceptable. We understand that humanitarian help to media including safety vests for journalists in danger have been seized and confiscated. This is intolerable.”

The de facto government called the comparison between Israel violations of human rights in Gaza, which the IFJ delegation had set out to identify in Gaza, with de facto government actions “inappropriate,” and said it was “like comparing the victim to the executioner.”

The de facto government does not interfere with the media in Gaza, said the official response, and affirmed that Arab and foreign journalists move freely in the Strip and “interview whoever they want without any impediments.”
Of course, the number of arrests and threats by Hamas (and Fatah) towards journalists is long and detailed, for anyone who bothers to research it, something the Western media is reluctant to do.

A recent example is detailed in this NYT piece by Ethan Bronner:
Because Israel barred foreign journalists from entering Gaza until the war ended, The New York Times relied on my Palestinian colleague here, Taghreed el-Khodary, for on-the-ground coverage of the fighting.

We would speak several times a day as she cautiously went out. Her first stop was usually Shifa Hospital to get a sense of civilian casualties. Early in the war, at the hospital, she witnessed the murder of an alleged Israeli collaborator by Hamas gunmen. They shot him in the skull more or less in front of her. One of the gunmen told Taghreed that she should never mention what she saw to anyone. She told him there was not a chance she would stay silent, then made some calls to find out about other such events and sent me the information, which we published the next day.
From all accounts Taghreed is the exception. The only journalists that report negatively about Hamas in Gaza work anonymously for Fatah-aligned news agencies or for the Israeli media. The world media, always anxious to jump on the anti-Israel bandwagon, is scared to death of crossing Hamas when they are in Gaza. Their claims that they report objectively from Gaza are laughable.

And nothing proves this more than the fact that none of them reported on the IFJ condemnation of Hamas to begin with. The only mention was at Menassat, a Lebanese site dedicated to covering Arab media.

If journalists were so concerned about freedom of expression and objectivity, why did they all ignore this story from an organization that is dedicated to protecting them?