The survey asked, "There has been a debate recently on the issue of freedom of expression in the Palestinian society. In your opinion to what extent is the freedom of expression permissible in the PA-controlled territories?"
The answers are telling. 21.2% said that there was freedom of expression "to a very great extent" (2.2%) or "to a great extent" (19.0%).
However, a total of 74.3% said that freedom of expression was "low" (32.8%), "very low" (18.1 %) or "not permissible at all" (23.4%).
There are ramifications to this news.
If Palestinians themselves agree that there is little or no freedom of expression, then that means that their newspapers, TV stations and even social media are not accurate barometers of reality. The news that is published is the news that is allowed to be published by the governments of Fatah and Hamas.
It also means that Palestinian stringers for major networks and wire services have no more freedom of expression than any other Palestinian. This naturally implies that any reporting from areas under Palestinian control is ab initio suspect .
None of this is a surprise, but it shows that the news media that operates in the territories is not being honest by default. If they cared about accuracy, they should say that the reporters and news services are under pressure - sometimes overt, often covert - that shades the coverage towards the story that the authorities want the world to hear. If news services valued accuracy, they they must inform their readers of any factors that could be coloring their stories, and let the readers decide what the truth is.
There is another ramification. If the Palestinians widely believe that they have no freedom of expression, then one would expect NGOs to pressure their leadership on this issue. Amnesty and other NGOs have elaborate programs to defend freedom of expression worldwide.
Yet I have not seen any initiative of any consequence targeting Palestinian territories. The topic is mentioned briefly in the annual Amnesty report, but the last time I can find that there was a report specifically on the topic of freedom of expression under the PA was in 2000. HRW is somewhat better, but often feels it must "balance" its reports by throwing in gratuitous anti-Israel accusations for no reason.
What it also means for the NGOs is that they must adhere to known fact-finding standards in order to ensure that what people tell them reflects reality, not what people think that their local security services want them to say. Palestinian Arabs have made up anti-Israel accusations without any support many times - a phenomenon that Amnesty itself has noted. But as long as the NGOs refuse to use published standards that can eliminate bias, their reports themselves will continue to suffer from the same bias that Palestinian Arabs see in their media every day.
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