Media Comment: Do peace and freedom interest the media?

Reporters without Borders included Hamas and the PA security forces in a list of "predators of freedom of information" who "censor, imprison, kidnap, torture and kill journalists and other news providers.

May 29, 2013 21:48
Hamas policemen at a Hamas security forces graduation ceremony.

Hamas policemen 370. (photo credit: reuters)


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In a recent academic article, Beate Josephi, a lecturer at Australia’s Edith Cowan University, postulated that while democracies provide the legal framework for freedom of speech, they do not offer protection for journalistic services, whether in print, broadcast or electronic.

These are largely financed privately by those persons, or conglomerates, who own the media outlets. She suggests that “journalism needs supporters who see value in independent information provision and credible news judgment.”

This, of course, presents three problems. In the first place, what happens when the media is owned by the public and the money is collected through taxes or license fees, which is a major part of the Israel reality? In the second instance, journalists are notorious for either ignoring or refusing to accept input from the public or most other outsiders unless, of course, the assistance and support is unambiguously in favor of whatever journalists do or publish.

The third problem is: Do we accept her premise that there indeed is “independent information provision”? Is journalism, if left solely in the hands of those that produce the news at ground level, truly independent? Isn’t there bias and prejudice inherent in any, indeed, every news report? One of the more popular myths that journalists propagate about themselves is that they represent the most reliable force that faces down the domination, by government or industry or religion, of truth. We suggest that any press which is not sufficiently balanced out either by competition, a critical public or a system of regulatory review with an ability to correct and even punish, not only betrays principles of ethics but is inherently undemocratic.

Journalists when left to themselves go so far as to assist non-democratic countries or groups in acting illegally and immorally.

One aspect of this is the way the press sees its role in reporting on the promotion of peace.

In a previous column, “Freedom of the press – who really cares?” (May 10, 2012), we treated the duplicity of Israel’s self-proclaimed human rights groups, who promoted the theme that Israel is moving in an alarmingly anti-democratic direction while ignoring the abuse of democracy by the Palestinian Authority. Has the situation improved over this past year? In its 665-page report, released last February, Human Rights Watch assessed progress on human rights during the past year in more than 90 countries. It found that in the PA, journalists and bloggers continue to be harassed. On May 21, 2013, the Palestinian Commission for Human Rights said in its annual report that incidents of abuse by the PA are up 10 percent since last year including “preventing reporters from reporting or arresting them.”

The journalists were accused by the security services of insulting PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas, leading to a call by HRW that those in charge respect the freedoms of the press and free expression. As an example, the report notes the detention of Omar Abu Arqoub. He anchors a program on Al-Rayah radio. His laptop was confiscated as was a portable hard drive. Another journalist, Haroun Abu Arrah, also a film producer, was interrogated concerning comments he made on Facebook.

He claimed the PA was pressuring his employer to fire him.

Reporters without Borders included Hamas and the PA security forces in a list of “predators of freedom of information” who “censor, imprison, kidnap, torture and kill journalists and other news providers.”

Vivian Bercovici, in an April 30 column in the Toronto Star this year, provided additional details of the PA’s anti-democratic activity. Lampooning Mahmoud Abbas online will get you jail. This is what happened to a person who posted Abbas’ photo next to that of a TV villain who had collaborated with French colonial rule. Another resident of the PA received a year in prison for posting a photograph of Abbas kicking a soccer ball with a mocking caption.

Hamas was reported to have arrested dozens of journalists since 2007 when it came to power. The Palestine Journalists Syndicate, a professional journalists’ guild, has been found to be cooperating with the PA political leadership rather than with professional colleagues.

There are many more examples but the end result is not only that journalists in Israel and in other free countries do not defend their Palestinian colleagues, they are permitting the PA to continue in its policies that not only destroy a free press but are undermining the “peace” they too often serve rather than cover.

If our media does not sufficiently inform Israel’s citizens about the day-to-day reality in the Palestinian Authority (for an outstanding exception see this paper’s Khaled Abu Toameh), if they do not provide critical analysis in a sustained manner, they are betraying their profession.

This past week, President Shimon Peres crossed the Jordan River, in what was claimed to be “a special diplomatic visit.” He recreated the classic three-way handshake of Jimmy Carter, Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Abbas (Abbas, by the way, is years overdue for democratic elections). President Peres also plagiarized Menachem Begin when he declared, “War is not inevitable. Peace is inevitable.” That last sentence was lifted from Begin’s greeting to Sadat in the Knesset on November 20, 1977: “We have learned from history, Mr. President, that war is avoidable. It is peace that is inevitable.”

The press received the president’s press office news releases notifying them that he is a diplomat. On May 23, he held “a diplomatic meeting” with Kerry and the next day “a diplomatic working meeting” with British Foreign Secretary William Hague. Back on May 5, he held “a diplomatic working meeting” with Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter.

The media ran amok over Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s sleeping arrangements on flights, but the fact that Peres is empowering himself with a role that is not legally his, is for all intents and purposes disregarded.

The media, local and foreign, have also failed their consumers in reporting a recent statement made by the PA’s Saeb Erekat. Erekat, a notorious liar (remember the infamous Jenin Massacre affair), demanded of Peres “to exert every possible effort to convince... the prime minister of Israel [to say] he accepts two states on [the] 1967 [borders]. He needs to say it.”

No one challenged Erekat. The truth is that on March 21, 2013, at a press conference with President Barack Obama, Netanyahu said Israel “remains fully committed to peace and to the solution of two states for two peoples.” On December 5, 2012, he said, “We remain committed to a negotiated settlement...[and] that solution is a twostate solution for two peoples.” And almost four years ago, on June 14, 2009, he said: “we will be ready in a future peace agreement to reach a solution where a demilitarized Palestinian state exists alongside the Jewish state.”

Our media, and the foreign media, had Erekat on camera and were recording him live but permitted him to prevaricate. No one reported that Erekat, true to form, had falsely insinuated that Prime Minister Netanyahu would not accept the two-state solution. Peace and truth were not served by the press.

Josephi, in another article, believes that freedom as it is served by the media includes, among a long list, reviewing if information flows freely, if there are multiple levels of self-regulation, if there is internal media democracy and do watchdog groups have an effect.

If not, media consumers are but misinformed tools to be exploited, and democracy is ill-served. National goals, including peace in Israel’s case, can be subjected to a form of media oppression.

Self-imposed cultural, social and political constraints are devastating our press. The most dangerous enemy of freedom of the press is the press itself.

The authors are, respectively, vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (

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