Committee to Protect Journalists
Country Report: The Palestinian National Authority
As of December 31, 1998

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Five years after Yasser Arafat's Palestinian National Authority (PNA) assumed control of areas of the West Bank and Gaza, fear and self-censorship continue to hamper the Palestinian press. The PNA's authoritarian-style tactics against independent-minded journalists have forced most to steer clear of sensitive topics such as corruption, mismanagement, or any news that would cast Arafat or his authority in a negative light.

To some journalists, the daily press functions more as a mouthpiece for the PNA than as an independent institution. Two of the three private Palestinian dailies have direct financial or political links to the PNA. The third--the privately-owned, Jerusalem-based  Al-Quds--stays well within the boundaries of what Arafat's coterie considers acceptable journalism. "They [the editors] censor about 40 percent of my articles concerning Palestinian policies, corruption, and mismanagement," said one columnist. "I don't send them sensitive stories because I know what they will and will not publish." Although the weekly newspapers Al-Istiqlal and Al-Risala--publications linked to the militant organization Islamic Jihad and the Khalas party (made up of former Hamas members), respectively--were allowed to resume publishing this year after lengthy closures, both continued to face pressure in the form of arrests of journalists or threats of arrest. For example, one of the editors of Al-Risala was on the run for several weeks after he learned that authorities were trying to arrest him for his criticisms of Arafat's leadership.

The nascent private broadcast media were targets of repeated harassment and censorship. In an attempt to silence coverage of pro-Iraqi sentiment during the February standoff between United Nations weapons inspectors and Saddam Hussein, the Ministry of Information banned all broadcasting of opinion and analysis about the crisis. Soon afterward, more than 100 police surrounded the offices of the Bethlehem-based Al-Roa' TV and forced the station to suspend broadcasting after it had aired news about pro-Iraqi demonstrations in the West Bank and other programming about the standoff. The station remained closed without official explanation for five months. In a scene reminiscent of the February crackdown, police in December ordered six private television and radio stations in the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem to suspend broadcasting until further notice. The move was widely seen as an attempt by authorities to silence news coverage pertaining to the U.S.-led military attack on Iraq, specifically coverage of anti-U.S. sentiment and expressions of sympathy with Iraq from Palestinians.

Police and security forces continued to operate outside the law, arbitrarily intimidating and arresting reporters. One of the year's most disturbing incidents occurred in May when security forces detained Reuters free-lance journalist Abbas Moumani, holding him incommunicado for nine days.

Following the October signing of the Wye River peace accord between the PNA and Israel, Palestinian authorities moved to muzzle criticism of the deal. The day after the signing, 10 journalists were detained while attempting to interview Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, a Hamas leader, about the Wye agreement. Palestinian authorities subsequently ordered that foreign journalists would have to obtain official permission before entering areas under PNA control, and that Palestinian journalists would need approval before covering political or security issues. At year's end, it was unclear how rigorously authorities intended to implement these restrictions.

Journalists and human rights activists expressed further dismay over the PNA's November promulgation of an anti-incitement decree, which fulfilled a requirement of the Wye agreement. The decree contained a host of vague proscriptions such as "incitement to racist discrimination," "offending religious sensitivities," and "incitement to ... breaching the agreements that have been signed with brotherly and foreign states." Journalists said that the decree leaves authorities considerable room to punish future criticism of the peace process or other policies.
Attacks on the Press in Palestine in 1998
Date Journalist Incident
12/18/98 Nasser Shiyoukhi, Associated Press Harassed
12/18/98 Al-Roa' TV Censored
12/18/98 Mahid TV Censored
12/18/98 Bethlehem TV Censored
12/18/98 Al Watan TV Censored
12/18/98 Nasr TV Censored
12/18/98 Voice of Love and Peace Censored
12/18/98 Associated Press Censored
08/29/98 Munir Abu Rizq, Al-Hayat al-Jadida Attacked
08/18/98 Abdullah al-Shami, Al-Istiqlal Imprisoned
05/05/98 Abbas Moumani, Reuters Imprisoned
04/12/98 Abbas Moumani, Reuters Harassed
04/12/98 Majed Arouri, Associated Press Harassed
04/10/98 Reuters Censored
02/16/98 Al-Roa' TV Censored
02/15/98 All Broadcast Media Censored
01/05/98 CBS News Threatened

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