September 1, 2008

Palestinian Media Said Plagued By “Infighting, Self-Censorship”

Text of press release in English by Paris-based Arab Press Network on 28 August

The past year has been a trying one for journalism in Palestine, with the Palestinian Centre for Development and Media Freedoms (Mada) reporting 22 press freedom violations occurring in July 2008 alone. Mada coordinator Mousa Rimawi shared with APN details of the grim situation of journalism in Palestine and why it is difficult to be optimistic in the midst of the ongoing political violence.

Mada was established in May 2006 to fill the need to develop Palestinian media and raise the professional level of the territories' journalists. Rimawi says that at the time "it was clear that violations of media freedom would increase since the conflict between Fatah and Hamas was escalating daily following Hamas' victory in the [January parliamentary] elections."

Palestine's rank on Reporters without Borders annual Press Freedom Index has been dropping drastically since it first appeared in 2002, beginning at 82 and sliding into 158th position on the 2007 index. A look at the political climate of Palestine during the same time frame represents a parallel decline.

Rimawi fears that journalism in Palestine will not bounce back in the near future. "We aren't optimistic because we believe the occupation and the conflict between Fatah and Hamas is the main reason for [press] violations, which would decrease dramatically if one of the two parties vanished, but it's clear this will not happen soon."

"Campaigns of incitement in the media belonging to both parties have escalated, reaching a high degree of slander and defamation, especially on the electronic news sites," Rimawi explains. He further elaborates that the infighting among the press results in an overall decline in Palestinian media, hastening its departure from professional standards and exacerbating any pre-existing problems within the industry.

"So Palestinian citizens are deprived of correct information from local sources, leading to a decline in readers, listeners and viewers, who now follow pan-Arab and foreign media."

To make matters worse, Rimawi describes the ongoing polarization of the media in the territories, denoting that the media aligning itself with "Fatah or belonging to the Palestinian Authority has become banned from working in Gaza, and pro-Hamas media has become banned from working in the West Bank. Journalists are afraid of covering internal events in a lot of cases for fear of angering both parties. This has lead to self-censorship among journalists and editors of media outlets."

The Palestinian Centre for Development and Media Freedoms (Mada) is a non-governmental, non-profit organization operating out of Ramallah in the West Bank.

Originally published by Arab Press Network press release, Paris, in English 28 Aug 08.

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