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Media diversity in danger as Fatah-affiliated broadcasters forced to stop operating in Gaza Strip, pro-Hamas journalists threatened in West Bank

(RSF/IFEX) - The partition of the Palestinian Territories resulting from the Islamist party Hamas' takeover in the Gaza Strip in June 2007 has eroded media diversity, Reporters Without Borders said. Broadcasters that are affiliated to Fatah or support it have stopped operating in Gaza, while pro-Hamas journalists are exposed to threats in the West Bank, controlled by the Palestinian Authority.

"Palestinian journalists have for several weeks been living with the fear of being targeted by Hamas or Fatah militants," the press freedom organisation said. "We appeal to the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and to former prime minister Ismael Haniyeh to put a stop to the threats and intimidation of journalists. A way must also be found to allow the Gaza Strip's closed radio and TV stations to go back to work in order to preserve news diversity."

Reporters Without Borders added: "Foreign correspondents also face a major security problem. In the absence of any guarantees from the Palestinian authorities, the threat of kidnapping is still present. No attempt has been made to arrest and try those responsible for the abduction of British journalist Alan Johnston, although everyone knows who they are."

The only broadcast media operating in the Gaza Strip since the Hamas takeover are the Islamist party's own media (Al Aqsa TV and Sawt Al Aqsa), plus Sawt Al Qur'an Al-Kareem (a radio station run by the Religious Affairs ministry, which is under Hamas control), Sawt Al Qods (which supports Islamic Jihad) and Radio Alwan (which is regarded as a pro-Hamas station).

The state-owned press, controlled by the Palestinian Authority, have moved to the West Bank while privately-owned broadcast media affiliated with Fatah have had to stop operating. According to the information available to Reporters Without Borders, at least nine news media outlets have had to stop operating in the Gaza Strip. Three of them are state-owned: the Public Broadcasting Corporation, the Voice of Palestine radio and the WAFA news agency. The other six are privately owned: Sawt Al Shabab, Sawt Al Hurriya, Sawt Al Aamal, Sawt Al Shaab, and the weekly newspapers "Al Karama" and "Al Sabah".

Meanwhile in the West Bank, Issa Youssef Abou Al Izz, the head of the pro-Hamas TV station Afak, received telephone threats on 24 July after broadcasting a report that blamed the recent disturbances at Al Najah University in Nablus on Fatah supporters. The same day, gunmen burst into the station's premises in Nablus, forced all the journalists present to leave, opened fire inside and destroyed much of the equipment.

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