Mideast Media StormDecember 19, 2002 12:00 by ManagingTeam
Daniel Seaman, director of the official Israeli Government Press Office (GPO), has touched off a media scandal by accusing some international news organizations of gross bias in favor of the Palestinians. The GPO is responsible for issuing press credentials to all foreign journalists.
In an interview with the Israeli newspaper “Kol Ha’Ir” (translated by the Israel News Agency), Seaman claims that journalists coordinated their reporting with terrorist leader Marwan Barghouti. “He used to call them and inform them about what was about to happen. They always received early warning about gunfire on Gilo. Then they shot for TV only the Israeli response fire on Beit Jala. Those producers advised Barghouti how to get the Palestinian message across better.”
Seaman singled out four correspondents who have recently been removed from their assignments in Israel: Suzanne Goldenberg (UK Guardian), Lee Hockstader (Washington Post), Sandro Contenta (Toronto Star), and Gillian Findlay (ABC).
Seaman says: “The editorial boards got the message and replaced their people.”
The four news organization denied that the reassignments were related to GPO pressure. Ha’aretz reports that Andrew Steele, BBC Jerusalem bureau chief, lashed back by asking BBC London to boycott Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s bureau. Steele has reportedly decided not to ask Sharon’s people for comments or reactions, because of what he says is the government’s refusal to give press accreditation to Palestinians employed by the BBC.
To put things into perspective, HonestReporting readers should recall the words of Fayad Abu Shamala, BBC’s correspondent in Gaza for the past 10 years, who spoke at a Hamas rally in Gaza: “Journalists and media organizations [are] waging the campaign shoulder-to-shoulder together with the Palestinian people.”
Seaman says that Palestinians who work with the media attend a course in media manipulation at Bir Zeit University, and exercise control over information flow. He says: “The Palestinians let the foreign journalists understand: if you don’t work with our people we’ll sever contact with you, you won’t have access to sources of information and you won’t get interviews.”
Seaman gives further examples of Palestinians manipulating the media coverage: “The IDF announces that it is going in to demolish an empty house, but somehow afterwards you see a picture of a crying child sitting on the rubble. There is an economic level to that. The Palestinian photographers receive from the foreign agencies 300 dollars for good pictures; that is why they deliberately create provocation with the soldiers. They’ve degraded photography to prostitution.”
Seaman also says that “today we know that the entire Mohammed al-Dura incident was staged in advance by the Palestinian Authority in collusion with Palestinian photographers, who worked for the foreign networks.”
Seaman contrasts how foreign journalists had far more freedom to report from the territories prior to Oslo. “From the moment Arafat arrived,” Seaman told Kol Ha’Ir, “their dependence on Palestinian media staffers grew. And the more the PA tightened its hold on the ground and the closer the date of the conflict grew, the Palestinian hold on the foreign press became firmer… The Palestinians let the foreign journalists understand: if you don’t work with our people we’ll sever contact with you, you won’t have access to sources of information and you won’t get interviews.”
Seaman says: “At the direct instruction of the Palestinian Authority, the offices of the foreign networks in Jerusalem are compelled to hire Palestinian directors and producers. Those people determine what is broadcast. The journalists will certainly deny that, but that is reality.”