Sunday, October 31, 2010

PA restricts how and what media can report. Journalists silent.

From the Jerusalem Post:

The Palestinian Authority said on Monday that foreign journalists who visit the West Bank through Israeli media facilitators are “unwelcome.”

The move is seen as an attempt by the PA to prevent journalists from writing stories that may reflect negatively on the Palestinian government’s image.

The Jerusalem-based Media Central organization thus canceled a planned tour of foreign journalists to Jericho, which was to have taken place on Tuesday.

The organization has been taking foreign journalists on organized tours of the West Bank, where they have been able to speak to PA officials and other Palestinians freely. In Jericho, the journalists were supposed to meet with various PA officials, as well as the mayor.

However, a spokesman for the PA informed Media Central that foreign journalists should coordinate their visits to the West Bank through the PA’s press office and not through Israeli bodies. The spokesman said that foreign journalists whose visits are organized by Israeli groups are “unwelcome.”

The latest decision was apparently made in response to a report in the Los Angeles Times about a ceremony marking Jericho’s 10,000th birthday party. The report noted that many Palestinians and foreigners who were invited to the event did not show up.

“No foreign diplomats attended the opening ceremony, Shakira was not there to sing or shake, and even Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was a no-show,” according to the Los Angeles Times report. “Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, greeted by a few dozen Jericho children, unveiled a Jericho-themed postage stamp.”

The Palestinian Government Media Center also responded sharply to claims of violating press freedoms on Tuesday after the Palestinian Authority refused to accommodate any journalists who enter PA-controlled territory with the assistance of the Jerusalem-based Media Central organization.

"The Palestinian Government Media Center is very keen, as a new institution, to provide facilities for journalists wishing to report on the reality of life in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and give an accurate view of the political situation," said a statement released by the group. "What it is not prepared to do is work in co-operation with Israeli organizations dedicated to propaganda in support of the Occupation."
Perhaps, one might think, the PA Media Center is dedicated to freedom of the press and truth in reporting? Maybe the Jerusalem Post is exaggerating that they were upset at the negative LA Times story?

Well, let's go to their webpage and find out the goals of the Palestine Media Center - written only in Arabic:

In light of the escalation of the struggle of the Palestinian people, and their heroic sacrifices, which reached peaks in the first Intifada and the Al-Aqsa [second] Intifada ... cabinet affairs minister Yasser Abed Rabbo created an information center that addresses the media and public opinion and the Arab World at the regional and international levels, for truth and justice towards the fact that the national struggle is a just and honorable struggle of the Palestinian people and the peoples of the Arab nation, in defense of their natural rights in the liberation of their occupied land and sovereignty.

It is possible to summarize the objectives of the Centre in this manner:

Explain and clarify the official Palestinian position towards the various issues of the Arab and Palestinian - Israeli conflict.

* To clarify the image of the Palestinian and international media and proving the legitimacy of their struggle for independence.

* Address the world public opinion in plain, understandable and contemporary language.

* Improve the process of working with existing media, especially the U.S. media, to reorganize and manage the Palestinian relationship with the networks and representatives of various agencies and global media.

The center also aims to create a system of effective information shows the official position of the National Authority towards various issues, in addition to the right of self-determination and the declaration of the state and the return of refugees and commitment to the principles of international legitimacy, and to enhance the image of Palestinians around the world through effective cooperation with the media, and influencing global public opinion about the Palestinian people, especially with regard to achieving the national goals of independence and human rights, and the cultural, social, economic and political development of the Palestinian people.
In short, foreign journalists are now being forced by the PA to coordinate their movements with an organization whose very existence is explicitly against fair reporting about the conflict and only for giving one side of the story.

Compare the PMC goals with those published by Media Central:
MediaCentral is an independent media-liaison organization offering a friendly place to work in downtown Jerusalem, with free services including:

  • WiFi access & printer/fax facilities, etc.
  • Primary sources (experts, analysts, interviewees, materials)
  • References / contacts – photographers, translators, drivers, guides, etc.
  • Field Tours to locations of interest – Sderot, Golan & the North, Security Barrier, etc.
  • Updates, briefings, analysis – in a range of languages
  • Translations of breaking news and critical materials
  • Drop-in lounge with coffee/tea/drinks & snacks
  • Wide-screen TVs with continual news feeds
  • Helping hand services/info – logistics, contracts, what’s hot, what’s not
  • Every Thursday - MediaCentral's TGIT! "Thank Goodness It's Thursday" end of the week gatherings every Thursday at 4pm (with wine & cheese, beer & snacks) - with occasional briefings on various topics (TBA). 
MediaCentral can be your 'base-camp' in Jerusalem. We take an open, direct and needs-based approach to serving you, in cooperation with both Israeli and Palestinian partners from the government and NGO sectors. Initiated by Honest Reporting, our goal is to promote impartial and comprehensive coverage; confident that accuracy is Israel’s best ally, we aim to simply help you achieve your goals of understanding and reporting the facts and providing insightful analysis.
Note the highlighted section: to MediaCentral, truth and accuracy is the primary goal, even as it is confident that this very accuracy will help Israel. Contrast that the the PMC, whose entire stated purpose is explicitly pro-Palestinian propaganda and no balance whatsoever.

While MediaCentral can and does arrange for reporters to meet with Palestinian Arab officials, the PMC would never dream of facilitating reporters meeting with Jewish leaders who live in Judea and Samaria. That is the difference between an organization that is meant to help the media and one meant to mislead it.

If the PA is now telling its officials to stop working with MediaCentral, that means that the PA is afraid of the truth and wants to force journalists to adhere to their narrative. This is, to put it simply, outrageous, and the media should be making their objections clear to this attempt to influence their opinions and limit their ability to hear both sides of the story.

Unfortunately that is not happening. The media is silent on this explicit curtailing of their freedoms under the "moderate" yet authoritarian Palestinian Authority. The only person to report on this outrage is - as usual - Khaled Abu Toameh, the brilliant and courageous Arab journalist who reveals the stories that the Western media are too timid to touch.

In what is seen as yet another bid to restrict freedom of the media, the Palestinian Authority government has announced that journalists who wish to report "accurately" on Palestinian life are urged to do so directly with Palestinians.

The Palestinian government's decision is aimed at sending a warning to journalists who dare to report anything that may reflect negatively on its reputation.

It is not clear why representatives of the foreign media have not protested against the new restrictions directed against them.

The Western-funded Palestinian government is actually telling foreign journalists that from now on they should report only on matters that shed a positive light on the Palestinian Authority and its leaders.

By insisting that foreign journalists arrange their visits to the Palestinian territories only through Palestinians, the Palestinian government is proving that its attitude toward freedom of the media is not much different that that of Hamas, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Bashar Assad.
(h/t Backspin)