The indefatigable Khaled abu Toameh, who has more than anyone, addressed the issue of Palestinian press freedom, has an extremely important article in today’s Jerusalem Post on the problems of journalism in the Palestinian Authority. For those of my readers who think that I’ve been exaggerating the role of intimidation by Palestinians, and hence the culture of “access journalism,” on MSM press like Steven Erlanger, consider the implications of what Toameh reveals in his article. [Toameh in bold, blockquote.]
Mar. 31, 2007 18:52 | Updated Apr. 1, 2007 7:00
Palestinian journalists calls for a media boycott of the PA
By KHALED ABU TOAMEH
The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate on Saturday called on the local and foreign media to boycott the Palestinian Authority in response to the kidnapping of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston in Gaza City three weeks ago.
BBC correspondent Alan Johnston, who was kidnapped by masked Palestinian gunmen in Gaza three weeks ago.
This is nothing short of monumental for this organization to call for such a strike. In some senses, it resembles the Israeli academics who call for a boycott of Israeli academics, although in this case it is a cry for help not an insane, ideologically driven stab at seppuku. The Palestinian Journalist Syndicate is hardly the most committed organization in the world to the civic values it here invokes to appeal to the world, so one must assume they are genuinely fearful. As long as both the authorities and the press agreed on the anti-Zionist victim narrative, and Pallywood served both their purposes, the problem remained concealed. Now that it’s civil war, and the Israelis are not involved, the issue of press repression becomes unavoidable.
Meanwhile, a prominent human rights activist in the Gaza Strip expressed fear that the kidnapping of foreign journalists was designed to “prevent the world from seeing what’s really happening here.”
It’s obvious, the activist said, “that those behind the kidnappings want to have a monopoly over the news coverage in the Gaza Strip. They don’t want the world to see the anarchy on the streets and the infighting between Fatah and Hamas. Unfortunately, they have succeeded in achieving their goal because most foreign journalists are today afraid to come to the Gaza Strip.”
Note that the activist remains nameless. No one wants to be in the Palestinian territories and a known critic. Also note that the activist would not have spoken earlier about this — kidnappings and control of the news have characterized Palestinian media culture (and the Western journalists who learn to play by their rules) for decades, certainly since the 1970s.
In understanding this remarkable reaction, it is important to realize, that Alan Johnston was a pro-Palestinian advocacy reporter. The BBC explicitly articulated that in pleading for his release. Like the French government responding to its journalists being kidnapped in Iraq, his father begged for Johnston’s rapid return by emphasizing how “good” he was for all Palestinians.
Mr Johnston’s father made a direct plea to his son’s kidnappers in a televised statement, imploring: “It is not helping the Palestinian people. It’s no way to treat a friend of the Palestinian people.”
After all, Johnston was a faithful reporter of the Palestinian victim narrative.
And the journalists, who demonstrated for his release all agreed. As Nablus TV commented:
“The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate has issued a call to release Johnston as soon as possible, saying Johnston must not be hurt as he is famous for his opinions which are supportive of the Palestinians.
The head of the BBC’s Middle East Bureau, Simon Wilson ingratiatingly acknowledged this favor Johnston had acquired to Palestinian journalists:
“It is clear to us that in Gaza, Alan is regarded as a Gaza journalist foremost and a foreign journalist second.”
So imagine what it might be like to report negatively from this area… and then you’ll realize how profoundly dishonest Erlanger was when he claimed that he did not feel intimidated in the Palestinian territories.
Naim Toubasi, chairman of the syndicate, told The Jerusalem Post that the boycott would begin on Monday and continue for three days. “We have called on all journalists to refrain from covering any news about the Palestinian Authority, including the government, to protest against the continued abduction of the BBC reporter,” he said.
Toubasi accused the PA of failing to do its utmost to secure the release of Johnston. “We’re not convinced that the Palestinian Authority is making a big efforts to release the reporter,” he added.
It’s not clear whether this makes sense. In some senses, with violence taking the lives of civilians without Israelis to claim, the last thing that any of the thugs in the PA want is coverage. I suspect that the policy is something that, under normal circumstances, would work powerfully: the PA journalists know better than anyone how critical the publicity of the Palestinian victim narrative is to the Palestinian leadership. A real boycott on news that lasted not for three days, but a year, would transform the behavior of Palestinians — leaders and commoners. Or better yet, a moratorium on the kind of fawning superficiality that characterizes allegedly intelligent organizations like the BBC. But you’d never get Palestinian journalists to argue for that — it’s their lifeblood, and this civil war interrupts its flow.
“We want President Mahmoud Abbas to order the Palestinian security forces to make a huge effort to free him. His continued abduction is causing great damage to the reputation of the Palestinians. We hold the murderous kidnappers responsible for distorting the image of the Palestinians in the eyes of the world.”
Now we get to the core of the problem. Johnston’s abduction has revealed some of the insanity that prevails in Gaza — they attack their own friends! — and thereby “distort[ed] the image of the Palestinians in the eyes of the world.” What better illustration of the kind of civic movement that passes through Palestinian culture when they become subject to international shame. If the MSM did its job even minimally, and reported a fraction of Palestinian misdeeds — like the culture of hatred they foster — then I think we’d see a great deal of change going on as the more civic-minded got some wind in their sails to argue for real reform.
Toubasi also called on Palestinian journalists to demonstrate in Gaza City and Ramallah on Monday to demand the release of the Johnston.
No group has claimed responsibility of the abduction and the motives of the kidnappers remain unknown. Johnston is the third foreign journalist to be kidnapped in the Gaza Strip in the past seven months.
PA security officials told the Post that they were looking into the possibility that some Palestinian journalists in the Gaza Strip may have been involved in the kidnappings. They claimed that local journalists have been trying to keep foreign journalists away from the Gaza Strip for fear that they would take their jobs.
“We have evidence that at least in one case Palestinian journalists were involved in a kidnapping,” the officials said. “Before accusing the Palestinian Authority, the journalists should launch an investigation into what’s happening in their ranks.”
Classic backbiting of a zero-sum culture. Blame those accusing you of the same thing. And not without reason. I am certainly willing to grant credibility to this comment by the PA — “We have evidence that at least in one case Palestinian journalists were involved in a kidnapping” — since a) it is not sweeping [i.e., "they do it all the time"], b) it admits that they don’t have evidence in this case; and c) the Palestinian Journalists are not clean organization. On the contrary, they’re longtime Pallywood players, participants in the media intimidation scene, and only upset now because they and their buddies (like Johnston) have been hurt. That doesn’t mean they kidnapped Johnston — quite the contrary — but the smear probably has a core of accuracy in this case.
It’s all here in a nutshell. The karma-come-home-too-roost Palestinian territories declining into anarchy, the negative-sum world of the kidnappers, its disruption of the zero-sum world of Palestinian journalists who were doing just fine with their dupes, the PCP advocacy Western journalists pretending to us, their public, that they were “reporting” from Palestinian territories. Now that it’s impossible to report “favorably” from the PA, we have a real crisis.
This situation raises some interesting possibilities. Ever since I ran across Pallywood and realized how besotted our media was — including their pervasive (official) denial of intimidation and access journalism — I’ve been trying to think of how to report accurately on areas where access has so crippling an impact on the quality of the reporting. Maybe we need to listen to the Palestinian journalists. Start a boycott on journalists going into and reporting from the PA. Do your journalism from without, with reports from within by a new breed of journalists who are a) trained in Arabic so they don’t need to depend on local stringers, b) incognito so they can’t be intimidated, and c) therefore report only when necessary and anonymously.
Maybe that’s it: this is hostile territory, and the only good journalist under these conditions is a spy. After all, we’re in a war and we need to know what’s happening among our enemies. And for those Palestinians who don’t like to hear themselves so described, either you’re just pitching a fit about being outed and shamed, or you realize that the people who have you in their grip are indeed our enemies, and yours as well.
As for the tag “Civic Heroism” — that goes to Khaled abu Toameh for getting the story behind the story.