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No free media with military censorship

IFEX member the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms responds to David Swick's piece about the challenges of reporting on Israeli-Palestinian relations

The Israeli military's impact on press freedom extends beyond censorship to outright targeted attacks on Palestinian media, says MADA
The Israeli military's impact on press freedom extends beyond censorship to outright targeted attacks on Palestinian media, says MADA

Maamoun Wazwaz

By Riham Abu Aita, Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms

David Swick is right to say that foreign journalists, especially in Canada and the U.S., censor themselves in support of what they think their owners want or their editorial policies call for. Oftentimes, foreign media defend Israel more than Israel defends itself.

But I have to disagree with Swick when it comes to the media freedoms Israeli journalists enjoy. Behind the bright image of media freedom in Israel is military censorship, which has been well documented by international free expression groups Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Freedom House.

Journalists need to get approval to publish anything regarding foreign affairs, military issues and "peace" with Palestine – or face the consequences. Consider what happened to the whistleblower and former Israeli soldier Anat Cam. Cam was sentenced to four and a half years in prison in October 2011 for leaking "security documents" about Israeli forces violations against Palestinians to the Tel Aviv-based daily Haaretz. Haaretz reporter Uri Blau, who used the documents to publish stories critical of the Israeli forces, pleaded guilty to illegally possessing classified documents, and received a sentence of four months of community service.

The Israeli authorities are also notorious for trying to impose laws that limit criticism, such as the boycott law, which makes any calls for the academic, cultural or economic boycott of Israel a civil offence, and is applicable to Israel proper and the occupied Palestinian territories of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

The proposed amendment to the defamation law would increase six-fold the financial liability for journalists in cases where the plaintiff does not prove that he or she has suffered harm. Offenders who release libelous statements internationally can be sued for as much as 1.5 million New Israeli Shekels (US$ 403,000), without having an opportunity to respond to the claim.

The Israeli military's impact on press freedom extends beyond censorship to outright targeted attacks on Palestinian media, documented by MADA, the Committee to Protect Journalists, RSF and other free expression groups. In November 2012 alone, MADA recorded 62 violations against Palestinian journalists and media organisations committed by Israeli forces, including three deaths.

My advice to journalists in North America wanting to write about Israel and Palestine is to visit the region beforehand. They will no doubt find significant differences between what they read or write in their local media and what is really happening on the ground.

And while I agree with Swick that they should educate themselves, Al Jazeera should not be their sole media source. The channel covers Palestinian suffering, but it has its own agenda that does not always reflect the local reality. As well, they should follow Palestinian local media, such as Palestine Public TV, Maannews.net and the Palestinian News Network (PNN).

Yes, journalists should be brave when writing about Israel and Palestine. It's a sensitive, complex issue that has caused intense suffering and cost thousands of people their lives. We need journalists who do their research diligently, and who report stories in a way that allows readers to draw their own conclusions and form their own opinions.

Riham Abu Aita is Public Relations Officer for the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA). She is also responsible for monitoring and reporting media freedoms violations in Palestine.

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