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Palestinian press centre opens to provide “haven of neutrality”

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Palestinian press centre opens to provide “haven of neutrality”

Flowers were laid around the headquarters’ surrounding walls by a wide variety of individuals and organisations sending their best wishes to the new press establishment: Hamas, the Islamic Jihad Movement, Fatah, President of the State of Palestine Mahmoud Abbas, and international media and production companies. “For the first time we can put everyone together in one place,” said Belal Salem, director of the new project. “We want to build this journalism centre into a platform for the democratisation, professionalism, and independence of journalism. We want to improve our chances of having an independent press in Palestine,” he declared (quotations translated from French).

It is hoped that the initiative, the brainchild of a group of independent journalists from Gaza, will offer a neutral ground for the practice of journalism in Palestine. “In Gaza,” explains one of its founders, Rami Abou Jamous, “all journalists are affiliated with particular factions. Hamas, Fatah and the Islamic Jihad all have their separate press, radio and television services. We hope to provide a neutral establishment.”

The divisions between Hamas and Fatah have greatly affected the work of journalists in the Palestinian territories. The major challenge facing journalists in Gaza, therefore, is to maintain independence and neutrality in their coverage of events. Omar Sha’aban, a member of the new press centre’s administrative body, explained to Libération that the chief aim of their new project is to “prove that a centre for independent journalism is in everybody’s best interests, including Hamas, who have themselves expressed a desire to promote freedom of expression here in Gaza.”

The new Palestinian press centre, financed by a number of private businesses that have not yet been named, plans to offer courses for trainee journalists, and will soon launch a website and eventually a radio station and television channel. It will also function as a safe workplace for foreign correspondents sent to Gaza to report on events.

Established in 2006, the ‘Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms’ (MADA) is another initiative promoting press freedoms in Palestine with aims to “end the violations against journalists, support them in their work, reduce practices of self-censorship out of fear of reprisal, and facilitate Palestinian media in reclaiming its role as the fourth authority.” MADA also works to provide “legal council and advice, monitor and document all violations of freedom of expression, and raise awareness among journalists and the general public of the importance of press freedom as a cornerstone to democratic development and good governance.”

Uniting to promote neutrality of the press in Gaza is particularly vital given the current threats to press freedoms that exist in Palestine and Israel. In February this year, a delegation of the International Press Institute (IPI) visited Palestine and Israel and produced a 37-page report entitled “Patriotism, Pressure and Press Freedom: How Israeli and Palestinian Media Cover Conflict from Inside” off the back of a number of interviews with journalists in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel.

The report found that many Palestinian and Israeli journalists “made no qualms about being subjective during [the November 2012 Israeli war on Gaza].” Members of the media were quick to affiliate themselves with particular political factions in those days, thus losing the impartiality and openness that is vital for reliable journalistic coverage during conflicts. The report also found that “the media is not just biased, but that hate speech, incitement to violence and racism exist in abundance in major media outlets.” For example, one Palestinian reporter revealed that he had been informed by a Gaza radio station that it saw itself as “jihad media”.

It is hoped, then, that the establishment of the new Gaza press centre will promote a breed of journalism that is more open and independent, free from the clouding influence of political factions, and able to provide the public with the balanced coverage that is so crucial to upholding democratic values.



2013-06-03 16:38

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