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.
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
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
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
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.
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.”
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
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.
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
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 (www.imw.org.il).