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A current digest of media, polls and significant interviews and events.
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Thursday, April 3, 2003
The Influence of Palestinian Organizations on Foreign News Reporting
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Institute for Contemporary Affairs
founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation

JERUSALEM ISSUE BRIEF
Vol. 2, No. 23 27 March 2003

The Influence of Palestinian Organizations on Foreign News Reporting
Dan Diker

"Television loves emotions and cares less about facts. The Palestinians
don't care about losing people, and the Israelis can't fight that," said one
senior international news organization representative.

"Arafat and his multi-layered security apparatus have muzzled local press
critics via arbitrary arrests, threats, physical abuse, and the closure of
media outlets," frightening most Palestinian journalists into
self-censorship, according to the Independent Committee for Protection of
Journalists.

In Arabic, the word for "news media" (i'laam) is the same word used for
"public relations."

Foreign news agencies have become dependent on Palestinian cameramen,
frequently residents of the West Bank, since Israeli cameramen are
prohibited by the IDF from working in the Palestinian areas. The result is
TV news pictures that focus daily on Palestinian victims.

Since the outbreak of Palestinian violence in September 2000, Palestinian
leaders have succeeded in using the international news media to mobilize
world opinion in favor of the Palestinian narrative, depicting the
Palestinian "David" defending his homeland against the Israeli "Goliath."
Televised images of Palestinian suffering portray a human drama that wins
the news media war. As a senior source associated with an international news
organization said recently, "Television loves emotions and cares less about
facts. The Palestinians don't care about losing people, and the Israelis
can't fight that."1

Playing by Palestinian Authority Rules

Most foreign correspondents, and particularly local Palestinian stringers
who report from the West Bank and Gaza for Jerusalem-based foreign news
bureaus, operate under an unspoken but firm set of rules. They avoid
reporting stories involving widespread human rights abuses, high-level
corruption and financial mismanagement, and violence between Palestinian
groups that could prove embarrassing to Arafat and senior Palestinian
officials.2

According to a 2001 report by the Independent Committee for Protection of
Journalists, "In the nearly seven years since the Palestinian National
Authority assumed control over parts of the West Bank and Gaza, Chairman
Yasser Arafat and his multi-layered security apparatus have muzzled local
press critics via arbitrary arrests, threats, physical abuse, and the
closure of media outlets. Over the years the Arafat regime has managed to
frighten most Palestinian journalists into self-censorship."3

The Palestinian Authority does not maintain an official press center similar
to Israel's Government Press Office. However, the Ramallah-based Palestine
Media Center (PMC) is described as "an independent official institution
established and directed by Yasser Abed Rabbo, Minister of Culture and
Information of the Palestinian National Authority."4 The PMC is heavily
funded by the European Union; it may not be a coincidence, therefore, that
European news organizations have largely avoided reporting stories that are
critical of the Palestinian Authority.5

According to an Arab-Israeli journalist who assists Jerusalem-based foreign
media outlets, Abed Rabbo views media relations as an extension of the
Palestinian cause.6 The PA information minister made this idea clear to an
official Foreign Press Association (FPA) delegation that met with him in
September 2001 to protest Palestinian Authority threats against foreign and
Palestinian free-lance photographers who took pictures of Palestinian street
celebrations following the September 11th attacks on the U.S. Abed Rabbo
reportedly told the senior FPA representatives in no uncertain terms,
"Palestinian national interests would come before freedom of the press."7

A former Arab and Palestinian affairs reporter for Israel Television noted
that Palestinians have not yet developed an appreciation for a free news
media. In Arabic, the word for "news media" (i'laam) is the same word that
is frequently used for "public relations."8

Palestinian "Fixers": The Short Route to Palestinian Leaders

Most foreign journalists are not fluent in either Arabic or Hebrew,
rendering them dependent on a network of local Palestinian "fixers," mostly
young, educated Palestinians who speak Arabic, Hebrew, and English.
Palestinian fixers, who until recently have been fully accredited by
Israel's Government Press Office, know their way around Israel, the West
Bank and Gaza, arrange interviews with Palestinian officials, and introduce
journalists to their own circle of local acquaintances. As a rule, working
with a good fixer translates into getting interviews with top Palestinian
leaders and moving safely around the territories. An Arabic-speaking Israeli
journalist who avoids using fixers noted that most fixers trumpet the PLO
narrative and terminology of the conflict, which frequently collides with
established historical facts and international law. Moreover, Palestinian
security forces watch carefully what is said by local residents to both
foreign and local journalists.9

According to senior foreign news sources based in Jerusalem, the vast
majority of Palestinian fixers - often close friends of Palestinian
employees of Jerusalem-based foreign news agencies - are ideologically
motivated by the Palestinian cause, and actively encourage journalists to
report exclusively on the "evils" of the Israeli occupation, rather than on
the lack of democratic freedoms or human rights abuses in the West Bank and
Gaza.10

Arafat's "Management" of Foreign Press Interviews

Numerous foreign reporters have learned that interviews with the PA chairman
are not open invitations to ask tough questions. On March 29, 2002, Arafat
hung up on CNN's Christianne Amanpour during a telephone interview from his
besieged Mukata compound after Amanpour asked the PA leader repeatedly
whether "he was able to rein in the violence."11

In another instance, in 1999, a reporter from the German newspaper Der
Spiegel asked Arafat about widespread reports of corruption in the
Palestinian Authority. Upon hearing the question, Arafat reportedly accused
the reporter of being a member of the Israeli security services and promptly
had him removed. The German reporter's fixer, a former Palestinian diplomat
who had been based in Germany, convinced his foreign client to write Arafat
a letter of apology, but Arafat refused to allow the reporter to return.12

On January 6, 2003, Seif al-Din Shahin, a senior Gaza correspondent for
Qatar's Al Jazeera News Agency, was arrested by Arafat's Palestinian General
Intelligence on charges of "inflicting damage to the interests and
reputation of the Palestinian people and their struggle," for reporting that
the Al Aksa Brigades, part of the PLO's military wing, had claimed
responsibility for the double suicide bombing in Tel Aviv the night
before.13

Reliance on Palestinian Cameramen

Palestinian camera operators, frequently residents of the West Bank, today
film the vast majority of foreign TV news coverage in the territories.14
Foreign news agencies have become dependent on Palestinians, since Israeli
camera people are prohibited by the IDF from working in the Palestinian
areas. Palestinian camera operators are also far less expensive than their
Israeli or foreign news colleagues.

The result is that TV news pictures, broadcast internationally from the
territories, focus daily on Palestinian dead and wounded, massive
demonstrations and funerals, close-ups of local hospital and morgue victims,
homes of mourning Palestinian families, and destroyed Palestinian buildings
and fields. Missing is a measure of balance that might show images of the
Palestinian-initiated violence, including shootings, bombings, and rocket
attacks on Israeli troops and civilians, that prompt Israeli military
responses.

Perhaps the best example of the pitfalls of reliance on Palestinian
cameramen was the filming of the death of young Muhammad al-Dura by
Palestinian cameraman Talal Abu Rahama working for France 2 television.
While al-Dura, apparently killed in the crossfire between Israeli troops and
Palestinian police, became a symbol of the intifada and was used as a blood
libel against Israel, the photographer later denied claiming that the IDF
killed the boy.15

Following several formal investigations, the raw footage of the shooting
revealed that Palestinian photographers were part of the event and submitted
edited footage to foreign networks. Another German inquiry went even further
by concluding that Palestinians staged the killing with the cooperation of
some foreign journalists and the United Nations.16

Palestinian Intimidation of Foreign News Reporters

The lynching of two Israeli reservists inside a Palestinian police station
in October 2000 would change the rules of Western news reporting on
Palestinian violence. Nasser Atta, a Palestinian producer with ABC, recalled
on Ted Koppel's "Nightline" how his cameraman was beaten and his crew
prevented from filming the grisly lynchings.17

According to first-hand reports, Palestinian security forces also surrounded
a Polish TV crew who were beaten and relieved of their tapes.18 A foreign
correspondent noted that in "post-Ramallah where all good will was lost, he
would be a lot more sensitive about going places in the territories."19 A
day after the Ramallah lynchings, an Italian journalist, who had suffered a
separate beating by a rioting Arab mob in Jaffa, penned a letter in English
to Palestinian officials promising never to violate journalistic ethics by
transmitting film to an embassy or government.20

Following the September 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States, an AP
photographer's life was threatened by Palestinian officials for taking
photographs of widespread Palestinian street celebrations. Arafat's Cabinet
Secretary, Ahmed Abdel Rahman, reportedly said, "The Palestinian Authority
cannot guarantee the life of the cameraman if the footage was broadcast."21
Despite a strongly-worded protest by the Foreign Press Association to the
Palestinian Authority, some foreign journalists made peace with the fact
that intimidation is a price of reporting the conflict.22

Palestinian Hospitality Versus Uncooperative Israeli Officials

Palestinian leaders have become well respected among the foreign press corps
for welcoming foreign journalists as honored guests during meetings and
interviews. Palestinian leaders also go to great lengths to make themselves
available to correspondents even at inconvenient times. For example, PA
official Saeb Erekat sent his personal chauffeured limousine to pick up a
Danish reporter and film crew at an IDF checkpoint for an interview.23

In contrast, some leading foreign journalists have long complained about a
general lack of cooperation by Israeli government officials towards the
foreign press.24 The Prime Minister's Office and IDF officials have been
known to take several hours or more before issuing responses to breaking
news in the territories, due in part to requirements of the military censor.
Israeli authorities are also often reluctant to provide informative material
to foreign news correspondents, even following terror attacks.25

Foreign Media Coordination with the PA

Danny Seaman, Director of Israel's Government Press Office, has charged that
Palestinian employees of several major international news agencies,
including the Associated Press and Reuters, regularly coordinate their news
coverage with Palestinian officials. According to the GPO, Marwan Barghouti,
leader of Fatah in the West Bank and now imprisoned in Israel, issued early
warnings to the foreign networks about impending Palestinian shooting
attacks on Gilo, so that the film crews could capture Israeli return fire on
neighboring Beit Jalla.26 Although Seaman's charges were rejected by Dan
Perry, chairman of the Foreign Press Association, Seaman has refused to
renew press credentials for many Palestinian journalists and producers.
Avigdor Yitzhaki, director general of the Prime Minister's Office, and
Seaman's boss, commented: "Do you think that everywhere else, anyone can
receive press credentials? I haven't seen any Iraqi journalists covering the
President of the United States."27

* * *
Notes
1. Interview with a senior international network news official, December 8,
2002.
2. Bassem Eid, Palestinian human rights activist, November 17, 2002.
Palestinian opposition to discussing intra-Palestinian strife with the
foreign press was also reported by a bureau chief of a major American daily
newspaper at a meeting in Jerusalem on November 26, 2002.
3. Judy Balint, "Palestinian Harassment of Journalists," Worldnetdaily.com
and Emunah magazine, February 25, 2001, www.jerusalemdiaries.com/doc/20.
Frequent instances of self-censorship by Palestinian journalists were also
confirmed in a meeting with a deputy bureau chief of a leading
Jerusalem-based news agency, November 17, 2002.
4. From the PMC website, www.palestine-pmc.com/about.asp.
5. Bassem Eid, Palestinian human rights activist, November 17, 2002.
6. According to a prominent "fixer" from eastern Jerusalem, who also reports
on Arab affairs for a major Israeli newspaper, November 29, 2002.
7. Interview with a deputy bureau chief of a leading Jerusalem-based
international news agency, November 17, 2002.
8. Moshe Cohen, former Arab affairs reporter, Israel Channel One News,
November 14, 2002.
9. Moshe Cohen, November 17, 2002.
10. According to a well-known Palestinian "fixer" who works with leading
European TV networks, November 29, 2002. Palestinian human rights activist
Bassem Eid also confirmed this point on November 17, 2002.
11. www.cnn.com/2002/WORLD/meast/03/29/arafat.cnna/.
12. Bassem Eid, November 17, 2002. For other instances of Palestinian
intimidation of the press, see Freedom House 2000 report,
www.freedomhouse.org/pfs2000/reports.html#ispa, and the 2000 Amnesty
International Annual Report,
web.amnesty.org/web/ar2001.nsf/webmenafr?OpenView, "Palestinian Authority:
Silencing Dissent" (AI Index: MDE 21/016/2000).
13. See Honest Reporting.com,
honestreporting.com/articles/critiques/Tel_Aviv_Fallout.asp.
14. According to a senior source at a Jerusalem-based international news
organization, November 17, 2002.
15. "Who Killed Muhammad Al Dura? Blood Libel - Model 2000," Jerusalem
Viewpoints, No. 482, July 15, 2002, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
16. Ibid.
17. Judy Balint, "Palestinian Harassment of Journalists," Worldnetdaily.com,
February 25, 2001.
18. Ibid.
19. Ibid.
20. Ibid.
21. "AP protests threats to freelance cameraman who filmed Palestinian
rally," September 12, 2001, arabterrorism.tripod.com/terrorism3.html.
22. Judy Balint, "Palestinian Harassment of Journalists."
23. According to Moshe Maoz, an Israeli free-lance cameraman who works with
Danish Television, December 8, 2002.
24. Jay Bushinsky, former chairman, Foreign Press Association, in remarks
made at the Ariel Media Conference, March 3, 2002.
25. Working Paper, "Israel in the New International Environment: The Media
and Legal Arenas; The Balance of Israel's National Security," Herzliya
Conference, December 2002.
26."Why Israel's Image Suffers," interview with Government Press Office
Director Danny Seaman, Kol Hair, October 13, 2002.
27. Aviva Lori, "The Seaman Code," Ha'aretz, December 27, 2002.

* * *
Dan Diker is a Knesset and economic affairs reporter for Israel Broadcasting
Authority's English News. He is also media affairs consultant at the
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs/Institute for Contemporary Affairs,
founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation.

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Dore Gold, Publisher; Lenny Ben-David, ICA Program Director; Mark Ami-El,
Managing Editor. Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (Registered Amuta), 13
Tel-Hai St., Jerusalem, Israel; Tel. 972-2-5619281, Fax. 972-2-5619112,
Email: jcpa@netvision.net.il. In U.S.A.: Center for Jewish Community
Studies, 1616 Walnut St., Suite 1005, Philadelphia, PA 19103-5313; Tel.
(215) 772-0564, Fax. (215) 772-0566. Website: www.jcpa.org. Copyright. The
opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the Board of
Fellows of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

The Institute for Contemporary Affairs (ICA) is dedicated to providing a
forum for Israeli policy discussion and debate.

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