Sharon a 'non-story' for foreign press now

Extra journalists begin leaving country.

As Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's condition continued to remain stable on Wednesday, members of the foreign media who arrived in Israel late last week began leaving the country. "There has been a pretty extraordinary influx of people," said Simon McGregor Wood - ABC's bureau chief and the chairman of the Foreign Press Association in Israel - referring to the journalists who arrived over the past week. "This has been a pretty exciting and tightly-focused story." Although the Government Press Office could not provide data concerning the number and provenance of the foreign journalists who arrived here since last Thursday, McGregor Wood estimated it equaled that of foreign press members who arrived last August to cover the disengagement. ABC, for instance, sent an additional 40 employees, while an estimated 60 reporters arrived to cover the story for the BBC. Nevertheless, McGregor Wood said he expected ABC's bureau to be down to its regular staff by Thursday. The speed of the media influx and exodus, he added, was a remarkable aspect of the Sharon story. "The enormous interest in the story," he said, "was based on the first 24 hours, when death appeared to be one of the likeliest scenarios, and people were actively talking about covering the funeral and the formal transition of power. Now that he appears to have pulled back from the edge of the cliff, it is no longer the 'big bang story' people arrived for." While the image of Sharon was positively enhanced over the past week in the Israeli media, according to McGregor Wood the prime minister's image was not transformed in the same way in the foreign media, where the disengagement had already positively changed his image in mainstream journalism. "After the first 48 hours, people really ran out of things to say," McGregor Wood said." He added that ABC remained prepared to rush people in once again in the event of any serious development in Sharon's condition. CNN and BBC, according to another member of the foreign media, would also scale back their teams here over the next two days. "At the height of the story, foreign journalists at the hospital were doing double shifts and giving updates every 20 minutes, crowding and pushing during briefings," a producer for a major American network said. "Today, there were hardly any updates at all, and the entrance to Hadassah remained more or less empty except for Israeli journalists. "What seemed to be one of the biggest stories covered here in recent years, with expectations of a big funeral, has become a non-story," he added.