Freedom of the Press
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Israeli-Occupied Territories and Palestinian Authority *
Israeli-Occupied Territories and Palestinian Authority *
Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Events in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are covered extensively by international media, but both Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) severely restrict press freedom and often impede journalists’ ability to report safely and accurately. The Palestinian Basic Law provides for freedom of the press, and a 1995 Press Law calls for free and independent media, but the latter statute also stipulates that journalists may be punished and newspapers closed for publishing material deemed harmful to national unity or likely to incite violence. The Palestinian Legislative Council’s 2005 deliberations on a draft bill on access to information were stalled after legislative elections in January 2006 resulted in an upset victory for the Islamist party Hamas.
Israel’s army and security services continued to commit a range of press abuses in 2006. Journalists were subject to gunfire, physical abuse, arrest, and substantial limits on their freedom of movement. In April, Israeli soldiers were accused on two separate occasions of firing at journalists covering unrest in the West Bank city of Nablus. During a major Israeli military incursion into the Gaza Strip that began in June, several journalists were wounded by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) gunfire: In early July, two photographers, Hamid al-Khur and Mohammad Az Zanoun, were shot and wounded; later that month, Palestinian television cameraman Ibrahim al-Atlah was seriously wounded by Israeli tank fire; in August, an Israeli tank fired on a marked Reuters press vehicle in Gaza. In December, Reporters Sans Frontieres released a report accusing the IDF of attacking or threatening 16 journalists and destroying the facilities of three news outlets during the year. In April, a British coroner’s court declared the 2003 death of British journalist James Miller an unlawful killing on the part of the IDF, to which Israel responded with a promise to further examine the incident. Israel denies that it deliberately targets journalists and maintains that reporters covering the conflict bear responsibility for placing themselves in danger.
Journalists reporting from the Israeli-occupied territories are required to carry Israeli-issued press cards; for Palestinian journalists and Arab journalists more generally, these cards are very difficult to obtain. In December 2005, Al-Arabiya reporter Bassem El-Jamal was denied entry to the West Bank for the third time that year by Israeli authorities, who cited his “contacts with hostile groups.” For one day after an attack on Israeli troops in southern Israel by Gaza-based militants, the IDF closed the Erez crossing to Gaza to the media; while protests from foreign journalists led Israel to reopen the border, the IDF prohibited Israeli passport holders from entering Gaza for several days afterward.
The Palestinian media have also faced pressure from the PA to provide positive coverage or forgo reporting on certain stories, and journalists who have filed stories considered unfavorable to the PA have been harassed. Threats, arrests, and abuse of journalists deemed critical of the PA, the president’s Fatah party, and now Hamas have become routine. With the legislative victory of Hamas in January, Palestinian media outlets have become targets of factional violence between Hamas and Fatah. In June, about 50 members of Hamas’s military wing (Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades) attacked Palestinian national television installations in Khan Yunis, destroying equipment and beating journalists. A Fatah-linked radio station in northern Gaza was attacked with light arms and destroyed in October by gunmen allegedly associated with Hamas. In November, a radio station associated with the militant Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) was attacked during a live broadcast; the attack was believed to have been spurred by an incorrect news report about a PA cabinet shuffle. In its December report, Reporters Sans Frontieres cited attacks on seven news outlets in 2006 by various Palestinian factions.
The political instability that followed Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, greater internecine conflict between Hamas and Fatah, and the existence of renegade political factions all created dangerous conditions for journalists in the territories. Six foreign journalists were kidnapped by Palestinian militants in 2006. In March, reporter Caroline Laurent and photographers Yong Tae-young and Alfred Yaghobzadeh were briefly abducted by PFLP members in Gaza. In August, Fox News journalist Steve Centanni and cameraman Olaf Wiig were kidnapped and held for nearly two weeks by a group called the Holy Jihad Brigades; they were released unharmed. Associated Press photojournalist Emilio Morenatti was kidnapped and held for a few hours in October, while French journalist Didier Francois was shot and wounded while covering clashes between Hamas and Fatah gunmen in December.
There are 3 Palestinian dailies in addition to several weekly and monthly periodicals, and the territories host roughly 30 independently owned television stations and 25 radio stations. The single television station and radio station run by the PA function as government mouthpieces, though control of these outlets is being contested by Hamas and Fatah. Most independent media outlets exercise cautious self-censorship, particularly on the issue of internal Palestinian politics. Israeli checkpoints often prevent newspaper distribution in the territories. Access to satellite television is increasing, and unrestricted internet access is available to just under 10 percent of the population.