The Palestinian National Authority

Fear and self-censorship marked the situation of the local press under Yasser Arafatís Palestinian National Authority (PNA). Just four years after the PNA assumed control over areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, journalists have learned that criticism of the Palestinian leader and official PNA policy is risky business.

Arrests of outspoken journalists and the closure of newspapers in the initial months of Arafatís rule has had a chilling effect on the Palestinian press. So too have the erratic and heavy-handed practices of Arafatís security forces, who have demonstrated little tolerance for independent journalism. "They donít think that people can hold other opinions and ideas. You must go with the flow," one Palestinian reporter said when describing a run-in with security forces over a news report. "It is very lamentable when a 15-year-old boy who canít even read or write asks you about press etiquette and how you should behave as a journalist. But he has a gun, a military uniform, and [Palestinian security chief] Jibril Rajoub behind him."

Police and security forces have also employed more subtle tactics to keep journalists in check. Both local and foreign journalists complained of daily harassment in the form of telephone calls from security agents, inquiring about news articles and requesting information. Such measures serve to remind journalists that their actions are being closely monitored. "I avoid writing stories which I feel I will be questioned about," said one veteran journalist. Some Palestinian journalists working with the Western media seek clearance with the security forces before filing a story, illustrating the pervasive fear among the press.

The upshot is a largely supine press that rarely provokes the authorities. Newspapers steer clear of sensitive issues such as corruption, political nepotism within the PNA bureaucracy, and any reporting that might be viewed as critical of Arafat. News stories pertaining to PNA policy tend to mirror the accounts of WAFA, the official Palestinian news agency.

In one highly publicized incident, authorities detained Daoud Kuttab, founder and director of the Modern Media Institute at Al-Quds University, for seven days in May after he stated in an article in The International Herald Tribune and The Washington Post that the Palestinian Broadcasting Company (PBC) had been jamming his live coverage of Palestinian Legislative Council sessions. Kuttab, through a project of Al-Quds Educational Television, had secured a contract with the Palestinian Authority to broadcast the councilís proceedings, but the transmissions had been repeatedly blocked. Kuttab said Palestinian officials were disturbed about the content of debates, during which legislators often criticized Arafat and his policies. After CPJ and several other international human rights organizations conducted a sustained campaign for his release, Kuttab was freed on May 27. In a separate incident, Palestinian Security Service (PSS) agents detained Khaled Amayreh, a free-lance journalist based in the West Bank, after he published an exposé on torture in a Palestinian jail in the weekly Sawt al-Haq wal Huriyya. Amayreh spent more than 24 hours in PSS custody and was released after he signed a piece of paper stating that he would be observe "objectivity" in his writing.