Friday, August 15, 2014

We're not getting all the news from Gaza, just the news Hamas wants the world to hear

Sreenivasan Jain of NDTV reports on Hamas rocket fired from next to his hotel

Hamas manipulated and intimidated the media in Gaza. Why was that kept from us?

Alan Johnson is the Editor of Fathom: for a deeper understanding of Israel and the region and Senior Research Fellow at the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM). A professor of democratic theory and practice, he is an editorial board member of Dissent magazine, and a Senior Research Associate at The Foreign Policy Centre.

We should normally say if our reports are censored or monitored or if we withhold information, and explain, wherever possible, the rules under which we are operating. –  Section 11.4.1 of the BBC Editorial Guidelines on accuracy and impartiality in times of War, Terror and Emergencies

The Foreign Press Association (FPA) issued an astonishing protest yesterday about "blatant, incessant, forceful and unorthodox" intimidation of journalists in the Gaza Strip by Hamas"In several cases," they complained, "foreign reporters working in Gaza have been harassed, threatened or questioned over stories."

The FPA said this amounted to "denying readers and viewers an objective picture from the ground," adding  "we are also aware that Hamas is trying to put in place a 'vetting' procedure that would, in effect, allow for the blacklisting of specific journalists. Such a procedure is vehemently opposed by the FPA.The statement raises a lot of questions. Here is one: why have British broadcasters not mentioned any of this to their viewers?

Let's review what we know.

Indian television station NDTV broadcast and posted on its internet site on 5 August a report by Sreenivasan Jain showing rockets fired from a tent next to his hotel. In the accompanying text on NDTV’s website, Jain wrote that it was published "after our team left the Gaza Strip – Hamas has not taken very kindly to any reporting of its rockets being fired. But just as we reported the devastating consequences of Israel’s offensive on Gaza’s civilians, it is equally important to report on how Hamas places those very civilians at risk by firing rockets deep from the heart of civilian zones."

In an article published subsequently, Jain wrote of "the fear which hobbles the reporting such material: fear of reprisals from Hamas against us", asking "how long do we self-censor because of the fear of personal safety in return for not telling a story that exposes how those launching rockets are putting so many more lives at risk, while the rocket-makers themselves are at a safe distance?"

Hamas spokesman being interviewed at Al Shifa Hospital, which doubles as Hamas's military command centre

More and more examples of intimidation of journalists by Hamas are seeping out of Gaza:

·         Israeli filmmaker Michael Grynszpan described on Facebook an exchange he had had with a Spanish journalist who had just left Gaza. "We talked about the situation there. He was very friendly. I asked him how come we never see on television channels reporting from Gaza any Hamas people, no gunmen, no rocket launcher, no policemen. We only see civilians on these reports, mostly women and children. He answered me frankly: 'It's very simple, we did see Hamas people there launching rockets, they were close to our hotel, but if ever we dare pointing our camera on them they would simply shoot at us and kill us.'"

·         An op-ed in The Australian and other sources including The Jerusalem Post noted that after Nine Network reporter Peter Stefanovic tweeted that he had seen rockets fired into Israel from near his hotel, he was threatened by pro-Hamas tweeters and warned: "in WWII spies got shot".

·         The Wall Street Journal's Nick Casey posted a photo of a Hamas spokesman being interviewed from a room in the hospital along with this tweet: "You have to wonder (with) the shelling how patients at Shifa hospital feel as Hamas uses it as a safe place to see media." After "a flood of online threats", the tweet was deleted.

·         John Reed of The Financial Times was reportedly threatened after he tweeted about rockets being fired from the same hospital.

·         Following his departure from Gaza, Italian journalist Gabriele Barbati tweeted on 29 July. "Out of #Gaza far from #Hamas retaliation: misfired rocket killed children yday in Shati. Witness: militants rushed and cleared debris."

·         French-Palestinian journalist Radjaa Abou Dagga wrote anarticle for French newspaper LibĂ©ration, on July 23, detailing how he was "detained and interrogated by members of Hamas's al-Qassam Brigade at a room in Shifa hospital next to the emergency room" and was forced to leave Gaza immediately without his papers. The day after publication, Mr Dagga asked LibĂ©ration to remove his article from their website.
·         RT correspondent Harry Fear was told to leave Gaza after he tweeted that Hamas fired rockets into Israel from near his hotel.

Hamas manipulation of the media is not always so crude.

·         As reported in Times of Israel on 11 July, the Hamas Ministry of Interior in Gaza published a video in Arabic advising on "cautious and effective" social media engagement on Facebook and Twitter during Operation Protective Edge. It contained such directives as "Anyone killed or martyred is to be called a civilian from Gaza or Palestine, before we talk about his status in jihad or his military rank … Don't forget to always add 'innocent civilian' or 'innocent citizen' in your description of those killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza."

·         Hamas has also actively interfered with bomb sites in order to gain PR advantage. The Washington Post's Sudarsan Raghavan detailed how Hamas staged events and scenes to evoke sympathy. By way of illustration, he was taken to photograph a mosque that had been bombed, and discovered that someone had "prepared" the scene and placed a prayer mat and burnt Quran pages. "The symbolism was obvious, almost too perfect. It was clear that someone had placed them there to attract sympathy for the Palestinian cause. A television crew spotted the pile and filmed it. Mission accomplished."

·         Hamas ensure reporters are exposed to casualties by insisting that spokesmen could only be interviewed in the courtyard of the Al-Shifa hospital, as described by Ynet News.

The long Hamas record of shutting down news bureaus, arresting reporters and cameramen, confiscating equipment and beating journalists has already been documented by the Committee to Protect Journalists. In the latest conflict Hamas wanted to reduce the reports coming out of Gaza to what Reinhold Niebuhr once called "emotionally potent over-simplifications". Journalists from India, America, Norway, Italy, Spain, Australia, Canada and elsewhere are complaining. Will we now hear from the Brits?

P.S.  Check out this broadcast from Lebanon in which a Hamas spokesperson expresses Hamas's annoyance with journalists who were "fixated on the notion of peace." The spokesperson explains Hamas's  policy of having "a chat" with journalists who don't follow Hamas's narrative and how they deported journalists who filmed where Hamas fired their rockets; e.g., from school yards, hospitals and hotel parking lots. 

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