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Friday, August 08, 2014

Why you don't get the truth from Gaza

An important story by veteran journalist Mark Lavie about what's different about covering Gaza than other war zones.
It’s nothing new. I’ve experienced it for decades. Autocratic regimes threaten, attack and jail reporters who write anything critical of those in power. Other reporters get the message and just don’t do it.
Bringing this element of the Gaza situation to light entails some real dangers. It’s a saga that can’t be told directly in detail. If it is, and if specific reporters can be identified here, people will be harmed. Not just the reporters, but their families, too. But if this isn’t told, you’ll be harmed. You won’t know why you don’t get the whole story.
Here’s the serious part. A typical news report from Gaza a few days ago described the destruction, interviewed Gaza civilians who related in heartbreaking detail the deaths of their relatives and loss of their belongings, and listed the hardships and travail the people are facing because of the Israeli military operation. Halfway through the long story was a single paragraph that said that Israel claims Hamas fires rockets from civilian areas. This is how journalists protect themselves from charges that they didn’t tell “the other side.”
But in fact, they didn’t. They didn’t report from Gaza about where the Hamas rocket launchers were, where the ammunition is stored, where the openings of the tunnels are—if they mention the tunnels at all, which in this case, they didn’t.
A reporter for a European news outlet told a friend that he saw Hamas gunmen firing rockets from outside his hotel, but he didn’t take pictures, certain that if he had, they would have killed him. He told the tale only after he was safely out of Gaza. Apparently his news outlet did not have a permanent local stringer there, or he would not have been able to speak even from the relative safety of Tel Aviv without endangering his stringer.
News agencies, newspapers and TV networks use their local Palestinian stringers to do most of the work on the ground. In this era of cutbacks in my industry, there aren’t enough reporters, and those they send in are not fluent in Arabic and don’t know their way around.
Besides the budgetary limitations, news organizations often hesitate to send reporters into Gaza at all because of the constant danger, and not from Israeli airstrikes. In 2007, BBC reporter Alan Johnston was kidnapped by Palestinian militants and held for more than three months.
Many other foreign journalists were kidnapped there and held for a day or two around that time. There have been no kidnappings recently, but the message was clear—foreigners are fair game. The message was heard and understood. For lack of an alternative, news organizations began to rely more and more on local stringers, giving the regime considerable leverage through intimidation. It’s expected that news organizations will deny all this—it’s part of the dance.
On many occasions, frightened stringers have pleaded to have their bylines taken off stories.
Some have been “evacuated” from Gaza for a time for their own safety, after an article critical of the regime was published or broadcast. Families have been spirited out for a while.
So when the stringer returns home and gets back to work, it’s pretty clear how he’ll behave. Everyone in the home office knows that and accepts it.
The West Bank, run by the relatively moderate Fatah, is no better than Gaza’s Hamas in this regard.
Even the best are turned. A Palestinian reporter duly relayed an official Palestinian story from an Israeli army roadblock near Ramallah in the West Bank, where a pregnant woman had died after heartless Israeli soldiers refused to let her go through to the hospital. The reporter went to the hospital, where a doctor confirmed the report. Uneasy, the reporter climbed on foot to the primitive encampment where the woman lived, and there, her husband refuted the whole story. The delay, he said, was getting her to the main road and finding a taxi. Once they got to the roadblock, he said, the soldiers cleared everyone else out of the way and sped them through to the hospital—but it was too late. The reporter then confronted the doctor, who admitted that he lied “for the cause.”
A decade or so later, this same reporter, like others, refused to touch a story of a Palestinian whistleblower, appointed by President Mahmoud Abbas himself to find evidence of corruption in the PA. He did his job too well, it seems—he was fired, but not before he said he took with him 40 boxes of incriminating documents, possibly answering the question of where those billions of dollars and euros of aid to the Palestinians has gone. The whistleblower approached several reporters, but no story was done until a local Israeli TV channel broadcast a report, and to the best of my knowledge, no serious examination of the documents has been undertaken.

Clearly the abuse of reporters and perversion of journalism is not unique to Gaza or the West Bank. This is the situation all over the region save Israel. During my two years in Egypt, I saw some of my colleagues beaten, harassed and arrested. The military-backed Egyptian regime jailed reporters for Al-Jazeera last December, charging them with belonging to or assisting a terrorist organization. Three, including Australian Peter Greste and bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian, have been sentenced to seven to ten years in prison.
Read the whole thing

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