Affecting News At Its Source
Israeli handlers became experts at dealing with foreign journalists and spare no expenses to insure a successful PR campaign ("hasbara" in Hebrew). An example from the recent coverage of the Palestinian uprising. Chris Hedges wrote in Harper magazine (June 2001)
"In Beit Agron (Israeli the government-run press building) I run into familiar Israeli press officials. They are efficient: our press cards are ready in minutes. They welcome me back. They ask about New York. They hand out cell-phone numbers and tell us to call if we need assistance. "
Most foreign reporters are encouraged to live and work among Israeli Jews rather than in eth occupied territories or among Israeli Arabs. This has been so successful that no US reporter was based in the occupied areas (including even East Jerusalem). Being able to occasionally visit the occupied areas is not the same as living and working among Israeli Jews and occasionally (with Israeli government approval and facilitation) be able to travel in the occupied territories. Surprisingly, there is an Israeli reporter who is stationed among the Palestinians regularly (Amira Hass of Haaretz). It is no surprise that US media coverage of the issues is more in line with Israeli governmental positions than Haaretz.
Since hiring local Christians and Muslims is under severe Israeli restrictions placed on non-Jews in terms of freedom of movement and access), those wanting local interpreters, drivers, and even photographers tended to hire more Israeli Jews. Even under these very difficult conditions of logistics and slick media "handlers" trying to influence reporters, the western media could have done a much better job if Israel has not added violations of press freedoms to the mix. The International Press Institute is a non-governmental organization with members in over 110 countries, including Israel and the Palestinian Territories. They have reported on freedom of the media and dangers to journalists covering the conflict at their website as follows:
As of 24 July 2001, a total of 102 press freedom violations have been recorded by IPI, 87% of which were perpetrated by Israelis (76% by the authorities, including the Israeli Defence Force, and 10% by Israeli settlers. One additional percent was carried out jointly by these two groups). The remaining 13% were carried out by Palestinians.
The Israeli authorities have promised to investigate several of these cases following protests from different journalist groups and press freedom organizations. However, there has not been any prosecution of perpetrators. Indeed, to IPI’s knowledge there has only been a single case of an Israeli soldier being reprimanded for shooting a journalist.
Israeli authorities appear to be trying to prevent negative media coverage of the clashes because of the crucial role the media play in influencing public opinion around the world. The Palestinian authorities, on the other hand, who are behind 8% of the violations, seem to be oversensitive to media criticism of their form of government. Palestinian civilians are responsible for 3% of press freedom violations and Palestinian paramilitaries for the remaining 2%. ....
IPI Director Johann P. Fritz said, "The IPI supports the international community's calls for outside monitors of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and stresses the importance of ensuring that the monitors are independent. The main concern of the monitors should be the gathering of unbiased information on the violations of fundamental human rights, including press freedom". He added, "It is in everybody’s interest that the world be given objective and full accounts of the unfolding events in the tragic conflict taking place in the Occupied Territories, the Palestinian Authority Territories and Israel."
Reporters without Borders (Reporters sans Frontières, RSF) had similar conclusions. They found the Israeli army possibly responsible for wounding 30 journalists by gunfire, and urged the authorities to adopt emergency measures to guarantee the safety of journalists. Here are excerpts from 26 July 2001 press release about the report:
Since 29 September 2000, Reporters sans Frontières (RSF, Reporters without Borders) has recorded thirty cases of journalists being wounded by gunfire in the Israeli occupied territories: 21 Palestinians, 2 Americans and 7 French reporters. Some of them were hit several times; a total of 40 wounds have been recorded. This serious situation led RSF to carry out a thorough investigation from 22 May to 3 June 2001, to discover exactly what happened in these cases. The results of this investigation are available in a 37-page report that blames the Israeli army for almost all of these incidents.
"In all cases except one, it can be seen that the shots fired at journalists came from Israeli positions," said Robert Ménard, secretary general of RSF "While it is impossible to assert that all of these journalists were deliberately shot by Tsahal soldiers, there is no doubt that, in most cases, they could easily have been identified by Israeli forces," he added. "While Israeli authorities have always claimed that journalists put themselves in danger by joining protesters during demonstrations, it is clear that many representatives of the press were shot while in areas away from such demonstrators," said RSF.
Reporters sans Frontières proposed 12 emergency measures to improve the protection of journalists working in conflict areas to Israeli authorities. As of the time of this writing (Late December 2001), three months later, there has been no implementation of any of these measures.