Skip to comments.Where the reporting stops
Posted on 01/17/2005 6:40:26 PM PST by white trash redneck
Palestinian journalist Majida al-Batsh surprised most of her colleagues late last year by announcing that she would run in the election for the chairmanship of the Palestinian Authority.
Batsh, a resident of the Old City of Jerusalem, had been working for many years as a Palestinian affairs correspondent for the French news agency, Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Before she presented her candidacy in the January 9 vote, Batsh was a frequent panelist on Israel TV Channel 1's Politica talk show, where she would speak more like a representative of the Palestinians than an impartial journalist from an international news organization.
Her colleagues claim that shortly before she joined the race, Batsh resigned from the news agency, saying she wanted to devote her time to the election campaign. However, they add, this did not prevent her from seeking the agency's help in her campaign.
"One day she showed up and asked to use the fax machine to send some documents," reports one coworker. "The agency did not object."
The story of candidate Batsh, who wound up withdrawing her candidacy weeks ahead of the vote, highlights many concerns about the identity and political affiliation of several Palestinian journalists employed by international news organizations and TV networks to cover the Palestinian issue. It also underlines concerns about the credibility of much foreign news coverage in general in regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In addition to her work at the French news agency, Batsh was also a reporter for the PA's official organ, Al-Ayyam,. In other words, she was also on the PA's payroll, since the Ramallah-based newspaper was established and is financed by the PA. Al-Ayyam's editor, Akram Haniyeh, has been listed as an adviser to Yasser Arafat.
But Batsh was not the only journalist at AFP who was working simultaneously for the PA. One of the agency's correspondents in the Gaza Strip is Adel Zanoun, who also happens to be the chief reporter in the area for the PA's Voice of Palestine radio station.
The AFP bureau chief in Jerusalem, Patrick Anidjar, refuses to discuss the issue, saying, "I don't understand why you have to have the name of our correspondents." Pressed to give a specific answer, he says: "I don't want our correspondents' names to go into print. I don't want to answer the question. What is this, a police investigation?"
Regarding the ratio of Palestinian to Israeli correspondents employed by AFP, he says that it's about 50-50.
"We have 20 Palestinian journalists and 20 Israeli journalists, including photographers. Most of those working in the the West Bank and Gaza Strip are Palestinians, and most of those working in Israel are Israelis, as is logical, no?"
IT IS perhaps less logical when the covering of Palestinian affairs is entrusted only to Palestinian journalists, some of whom are openly affiliated with the PA or other political groups.
"I will never work on a story that defames my people or leadership," boasts a Palestinian "fixer" (mediator/guide/translator) who works on a regular basis with many foreign journalists. "It is my duty to protect my people against Israeli propaganda."
AFP is not the only member of the international news media to employ "journalists" who see themselves as "foot soldiers" serving the Palestinian cause. Other parts of the foreign media frequently allow their stories to be filtered through such fixers-consultants.
Meanwhile, the Associated Press and Reuters, which have their own TV production services, rely almost entirely on footage provided to them by Palestinian crews covering events in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The material, distributed to thousands of subscribers worldwide, mostly focuses on Palestinians as victims of IDF operations; the cameramen decide from which angle to film and which material to send at the end of the day to their employers in Jerusalem.
The Associated Press also has a journalist Muhammad Daraghmeh who works for the PA's Al-Ayyam. "It's like employing someone from the [Israeli] Government Press Office or one of the Israeli political parties to work as a journalist," comments a veteran foreign journalist based in Israel.
Daraghmeh's byline has continued to appear in Al-Ayyam; AP's Jerusalem bureau chief denies that he works for the paper.
Adds the veteran foreign journalist: "I also know of cases where former security prisoners have been hired as journalists and fixers for major news organizations, including American networks. Can you imagine what the reactions would be if they hired an Israeli who had been in jail for one reason or another?"
In this regard, it is worth noting that for many years CNN used senior Palestinian politicians Ziad Abu Zayyad (Fatah) and Ghassan Khatib (Palestinian Communist Party) as in-house analysts on Palestinian affairs. This is in stark contrast to their use of Israeli journalist and commentator Hemi Shalev, and other such non-affiliated experts, to discuss Israeli affairs.
Conflicts of interest in the local bureaus of foreign media seem to extend to their choice of Palestinian commentators. For example, much has been said and written about the way CNN and the BBC cover Israel, but no one has ever asked why Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi gets so much time on air compared with other Palestinians.
"I can't understand why Hanan Ashrawi, who is an irrelevance in Palestinian society and was an abject failure as a minister, continues to attract vast amounts of international media attention, while longtime principled Palestinian critics of corruption like (legislator) Abdel Jawad Saleh are virtually ignored although they speak good English and what they have to say is 100 times more important," says a Palestinian editor.
"With regard to CNN, perhaps the fact that one of its main Palestinian producers, Sawsan Ghosheh, had been closely associated with Ashrawi explains why she appears on almost every program concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
CNN spokeswoman Abigail Levy insists that Ghosheh has "never worked with Hanan Ashrawi or with any other political figures."
On Ghosheh's experience as a journalist, she adds: "We employ our staff for their journalistic credibility. Ghosheh has been at CNN for nine years."
CNN refused a request to make public the producer's curriculum vitae.
LATE LAST year, CNN witnessed one of the most bizarre stories in its history when one of its Palestinian affairs producers, Riad Ali, was "kidnapped" in Gaza City by unidentified gunmen.
The case itself remains shrouded in mystery, but the way CNN has handled it is even more peculiar. It is, though, perhaps indicative of the difficulties and compromises foreign media make in covering the Palestinian situation.
Ali, a Druse from the Galilee, was eventually released unharmed, and all the Palestinian groups still insist that they had nothing to do with his alleged abduction, leading many Palestinian journalists to conclude that the whole case was either staged or the result of a "power struggle" inside CNN.
Ali has since refused to talk about the case, and there is no word from CNN on the results of an internal inquiry into the kidnapping.
"We do not comment on security issues at all," explains the CNN spokeswoman. "We want to protect him."
She says she also has no idea when the findings of the CNN inquiry will be made public. "My guess is that they won't," she says.
Would CNN have remained tight-lipped had one of its representatives been kidnapped by Israelis?
"Of course not," answers a former CNN employee. "This whole story stinks, and it's not one that CNN wants to air. When one of its crews is delayed at a checkpoint, they start calling everyone in the government to complain and shout. But when it comes to the Palestinians, they never complain."
One consequence of the way the international media chooses to cover Palestinian affairs may be its reluctance to report stories critical of the Palestinian Authority. For example, most of the foreign media for years chose to ignore stories about rampant corruption and lawlessness in the PA, preferring to focus instead on Israeli "violations" and "atrocities."
Most recently, the BBC published on its Web site a story by correspondent Barbara Plett about the PA campaign to register voters for the election in east Jerusalem. Israel had closed down the six registration centers in the city because, under agreements signed with the PLO, the Palestinians are not permitted to carry out political activities inside Israel.
"When it comes to Palestinian democracy in occupied East Jerusalem, Israel is obstructing them, and the Americans have little to say," Plett concluded her report.
Plett failed to mention in her story that most Arabs in Jerusalem had refused to register.
Plett, who last year admitted that she had cried upon witnessing Arafat being airlifted from the Mukata in Ramallah for medical treatment in Paris, also ignored in her story complaints by Palestinians that the PA security forces were harassing and intimidating would-be voters and supervisors at the registration centers a complaint made by the Palestinian Central Election Committee in a letter sent to the PA Minister of Interior and published in some Palestinian newspapers.
Only two days before the BBC election story was published on September 21, The Jerusalem Post ran the following story: "The Palestinian Authority's Central Elections Committee Sunday urged Palestinian security forces to stop interfering with the registration process of voters in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
In the past few days the committee received complaints from many Palestinians that PA security agents were harassing voters and supervisors stationed at registration centers. Members of the PA General Intelligence and Preventative Security have been phoning supervisors asking for details of people who registered as voters.
The PA security agents have also raided the homes of several election supervisors, demanding that they hand over lists of registered voters. The committee urged PA Interior Minister Hakam Balawi to put an end to the intervention of security forces in the registration drive."
Two years ago, the BBC bureau in Jerusalem declared a boycott of the Prime Minister's Office because of a dispute over the issuing of press cards to Palestinian employees. The BBC, claims a former journalist at the station, has never boycotted any other governing authority anywhere in the world.
I think I know where Dan Rather has been taking lessons.