Article 27.3 of the Palestinian Basic Law clearly states that ‘Censorship on media shall be prohibited. No warning, suspension, confiscation, cancellation, or restrictions, shall be imposed on media except by law, and in accordance with a judicial order.’ Unfortunately the reality is different.
In the West Bank, Israeli soldiers and Palestinian security forces regularly interfere with the work of Palestinian journalists. According to a report issued by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), ‘Palestinian reporters are (…) extremely vulnerable to abuse from the Israeli army. Six Gaza journalists were killed, two of them while working, and around 15 wounded during the Israeli military offensive against Gaza “Operation Cast Lead” from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009. At least 33 Palestinian journalists were physically assaulted or wounded by Israeli soldiers on the West Bank during the course of 2009.’
On 28 December 2009, Hamas-run al-Aqsa television was hit and destroyed. A few days later, the offices of al-Risala, a Hamas-funded newspaper, were bombed. The Johara Tower (Burj al-Jawhara), containing some twenty news organizations, was hit in January 2009 – despite the fact that it was clearly marked as a media building, as International Federation of Journalists reported at the time. On 15 January 2009, the Shuruq Tower (Burj al-Shuruq) was hit, injuring two journalists. The building housed Fox News, Sky News, Reuters, NBC and al-Arabiya, among other news outlets. Israel prohibits Palestinian journalists entering the State of Israel and prohibits international and local journalists accessing the Gaza Strip.
On RSF’s Press freedom barometer, Palestine’s ranking in journalistic freedom has fallen every year since PNA President Mahmoud Abbas took office in early 2005, when it ranked 127 out of 167 countries worldwide. In 2014, Palestine is ranked 138 out of 180.
An investigation conducted in 2008 by the Maan News Agency states that the PNA has carried out an unprecedented campaign of censorship and intimidation against West Bank and Gaza Strip journalists. According to reports by the Palestinian Centre for Development and Media Freedoms (Mada), in the West Bank, Palestinian security forces as well as Israeli soldiers were responsible for a number of attacks on journalists, beatings, destruction or confiscation of equipment, illegal closure of news agencies, and other forms of intimidation and censorship. Palestinian Preventive Security and other Palestinian intelligence forces were responsible for the arbitrary arrest and detention of a number of journalists affiliated with al-Jazeera media and pro-Hamas media, especially al-Quds and al-Aqsa television networks, and a Palestine newspaper.
On top of this, the websites of online news agencies have been shut down without notice, carrying out a president’s order without following the necessary legal procedures. For its part, the PNA claims it is not against freedom of speech, but is against publishing stories ‘defaming the Palestinian National Authority or inciting violence against Israel’. The Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate has also suffered from this censorship, as it today does not dare to speak out against blatant violations of media rights in fear of repression.
The chief editor of the online newspaper Donia al-Watan, which is suffering severe censorship, explains that Abbas’ office ‘is fighting any independent non-partisan media outlets. The case is it’s either you are affiliated (with them) and enjoy their protection and funds, in one way or another, or you are engaged in an increasingly dangerous and escalating media war.’
The Palestinian Centre for Development and Media Freedoms (Mada) reported that, since the Hamas-led government took power in the Gaza Strip in June 2007, security forces in Gaza had been responsible for numerous arbitrary detentions, arrests, raids on journalists’ homes, beatings, or confiscation of equipment, and other forms of intimidation and censorship.
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