(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Less than a week before the opening of the Jerusalem Press Club’s conference on Freedom of the Press in the Digital Era, the international and local media are abuzz with the story of Derk Walters, a Jerusalem-based Dutch journalist, who has been denied an extension of his work visa.
Walters has been reporting for the daily NRC Handelsblad since 2014, covering both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and was recently informed that he must leave the country in July.
Walters has been forceful in his criticism of Israeli policy vis-à-vis the Palestinians, and it is widely suspected that this is the reason he is being denied the extension.
Many journalists, including those who have never met Walters, have sided with him; some have posted messages of support on Facebook.
The Board of the Foreign Press Association in Israel issued a statement on Thursday, saying: “Although the correspondent for NRC Nederland
is not an FPA member, we know that this newspaper is well respected in the Netherlands and we hope it is not being singled out for its editorial stance.”
Nitzan Chen, director of the Government Press Office, was quoted as saying that Walters was denied a work visa extension because the paper for which he writes does not conform to GPO criteria.
This explanation is based on a claim by the GPO that it had learned that the paper’s editor-in-chief, Peter Vandermeersch, is also the paper’s managing director. The NRC board has denied this claim, saying that Vandermeersch is a member of the board, which apparently is not unusual in Holland, but he is not the managing director.
Vandermeersch wrote in an editorial this week that the refusal to issue an extension to Walters was a means of preventing critical coverage of Israel.
Uri Dromi, director of the Jerusalem Press Club and a former director of the GPO, told The Jerusalem Post
that he was not familiar with the exact details of Walter’s situation, but that when he was GPO director, “I made a point of putting an iron wall between administrative issues [GPO card, visa, etc.] and whatever correspondents wrote or broadcast. I never hesitated to dialogue with the correspondents on their stories, and when I felt like it, I would give them my opinion on what they wrote or broadcast, but never linked it to the GPO’s capabilities to affect their status or working conditions.”