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Surmounting Challenges in Gaza 

Surmounting Challenges in Gaza 

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Reporting from the Middle East comes with a host of challenges, but those facing media professionals in Palestine are unique due to the state’s relations with neighboring Israel. While imminent danger is a constant threat, the enduring problem of access to certain parts of the surrounding region is a continuing concern, meaning coverage is limited and one-sided, and self-censorship abounds.

Photo: IMS

By Colette Davidson

Riham Abu Aita still remembers when she went on a mission to Gaza with NGO Premiere Urgence Internationale. While she was initially afraid of what she might find in the volatile town, her fears were quickly assuaged.

“Before entering, I had an image of Gaza as a very dangerous place and I was afraid,” says Abu Aita, now the media programme manager at the Wattan Media Organization in Ramallah and WAN-IFRA’s Media Freedom Committee chair for Palestine. “But when I finally went, my opinion changed completely. You can’t have solidarity with the people there if you don’t go in.”

Organizations in the region have begun fighting against the limitations and threats, in an attempt to make sure covering the news is safe and fair in the near future. And with the increasing power of social media, citizen journalists are able to tell the stories that professional journalists sometimes can’t. So while true freedom of the press is still out of arm’s reach for Palestinian journalists, there is hope and a desire for change.

Palestinian journalists have been dealing with limitations on their right of movement for years, especially those living in Gaza. Despite Oslo’s recognition of Gaza as part of the rest of the Palestinian state, journalists there are denied entry into the West Bank, Jerusalem and Israel in general. Meanwhile, journalists based in the West Bank cannot access Jerusalem, which is technically part of the West Bank.

While Israeli journalists are not allowed into the West Bank, legally speaking, many get in using foreign passports. Others are allowed in through permits granted by the Palestinian Ministry of Information. However, Wafa’ Abdel Rahman, the founder and general director of Palestinian non-profit media advocacy organization Filastiniyat, says this agreement doesn’t work both ways.

“You can see Israeli journalists in the West Bank covering events, talking to people in the streets, but no organization in Israel would grant a Palestinian journalist access to go and cover news there,” says Abdel Rahman.

Israeli journalists who choose to cover events in Gaza do so on their personal account, and risk kidnapping or worse. But according to the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA), Palestinian journalists face more constant threats while reporting the news, with attacks coming in the form of injury, detention, murder, violent aggression or the closure of media outlets.

In 2015, according to MADA, almost 599 attacks were committed against Palestinian journalists, with 57 of those committed by Israeli soldiers and the rest by the Palestinian government and its security apparatus. In the first half of 2016, MADA says that 133 attacks have already been committed by Israelis and 56 by Palestinians.

The personal risk for journalists coupled with limited access means media coverage in the region is often one-sided or censored.

“Occupation aside, if you want to do a story on the medical treatment of patients going from Gazans to the West Bank, you only get half the story because the Gazans can cover the news in Gaza but can’t do the follow-up in the West Bank,” says Abdel Rahman. “This affects the credibility but also the objectivity of the reports.”

There is also a certain amount of self-censorship for journalists and their sources. The majority of Palestinian journalists are women working on a freelance basis, which means they have no health insurance or job security. This insecurity affects the way journalists cover the news, says Rahman.

“You don’t wait for Israelis to attack you,” she says. “You just don’t write about issues that could cause you problems because at the end of the day you have to hire a lawyer and find ways to protect yourself.”

For journalists based in Gaza, the challenges increase with the influence and pressure of Hamas, the Islamist fundamentalist group governing the strip since 2007. While journalists based outside Gaza are free to talk about what’s happening inside, Gaza-based journalists are controlled by Hamas and are often afraid to talk about certain issues, says Abu Aita.

“There’s a lot of self-censorship in Gaza because journalists don’t want any problems with Hamas,” says Abu Aita. “They can prevent you from reporting or interrogate you, or they may detain you for a couple of days. So it’s not easy to report in Gaza.”

The resulting coverage from inside Gaza resembles a “template” that journalists methodically fill out in a similar way in each publication, says Adbel Rahman, meaning coverage doesn’t advance or develop. This is why her organization is one of many working to change things.

“Gazans rely on the internet but they don’t have electricity 24 hours a day,” says Rahman. “This is why it’s so important to have programs like WAN-IFRA’s Women in News initiative. If you can’t get Gazans out, you need to get international experts in.”

Filastiniyat has introduced several initiatives to address the challenges facing Palestinian journalists. Since 2010, their female journalists club uses capacity building, safety trainings and investigative reporting trainings to help keep upwards of 400 female journalists safe on the job. This year, they’re also working on addressing sexual harassment, an issue that is often met with disdain by parts of society. In addition, they have begun social media campaigns addressing the issue of access for the media.

“I don’t think this is our destiny to have all these restrictions,” says Abdel Rahman.

Meanwhile, the Wattan Media Organization works to make sure media coverage in the region is as transparent as possible, even under difficult circumstances. Wattan uses activists to translate news and political analysis from Israeli publications into Arabic so that the other side of the story comes out. And citizen journalists are using social media more and more to highlight the discrepancies in reporting.

“There was a case of a Palestinian accused of stabbing an Israeli settler, but someone had taken a video of the event with their phone and it showed the Palestinian just walking down the street,” says Abu Aita. “So you can easily spread these videos on social media like Facebook and help journalists to find the truth.”


Hedvig Lundstrom's picture

Hedvig Lundstrom


2017-01-05 14:32

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In countless countries, journalists, editors and publishers are physically attacked, imprisoned, censored, suspended or harassed for their work. WAN-IFRA is committed to defending freedom of expression by promoting a free and independent press around the world. Read more ...