Sunday, July 31, 2005

PA issues ban on negative coverage

by Khaled Abu Toameh, THE JERUSALEM POST (Jul. 27, 2005)

In a move that has been condemned by Palestinian journalists as a threat to the free media, the Palestinian Authority on Saturday issued a ban on the publication of any news related to its security forces.

The PA Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the security forces, said the ban applied to local, Arab and international news organizations working in Palestinian territories.

It said the decision was taken "out of concern for the public interest and in line with national and professional responsibilities."

According to the ministry, journalists who want to cover stories related to the PA security forces will be required to fill out a special form and seek prior permission from the ministry officials.

The ban follows complaints by some Palestinians that the PA security forces are partly responsible for the growing state of lawlessness and anarchy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Tawfik Abu Khoussa, spokesman for the PA Interior Ministry, said the decision came after some newspapers and TV stations published "inaccurate and incorrect" details about the Palestinian security forces.

"This has happened many times recently and the information was not based on official sources," he argued. "Some of the reports have caused damage to the security services and the police and almost resulted in confrontations with the people."

Abu Khoussa, who previously served as deputy chairman of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate in the Gaza Strip, dismissed allegations that the new instructions were a breach of the freedom of the press.

"We don't want to impose censorship on the media or restrict the work of journalists," he said. "We only want to make sure that the reports about our security forces are true and accurate. We want to put an end to rumors and attempts to defame the security forces."

The PA's Ministry of Information expressed "astonishment" at the ban and said it was opposed to the decision. Deputy Minister of Information Ahmed Suboh said the ministry was against such restrictions and would inform the Interior Ministry of its position.

Palestinian journalists expressed deep concern at the latest decision, saying it was yet another sign of the PA's attempts to tighten its grip on the local media. "This decision contradicts [PA Chairman Mahmoud] Abbas's promise to work toward a free and independent media," a prominent Palestinian journalist in Gaza City told The Jerusalem Post.

"Every day we hear about a new measure restricting the work of journalists. The Palestinian Authority wants to turn us into its official spokesmen."

Another journalist from Ramallah said he and many of his colleagues are under increased pressure from the PA to stop reporting on stories that "reflect negatively" on the Palestinian leadership. "There is a feeling here that there is no difference between Yasser Arafat and Abu Mazen] Abbas]," he said. "Abu Mazen is imposing severe restrictions on the media just like Arafat."

Last week the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, which is controlled by Abbas loyalists, issued a warning to all journalists to refrain from reporting on clashes between Hamas gunmen and PA security forces in Gaza City. It warned that any journalist who violated the ban would be punished for harming the national interests of the Palestinians.

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