Submission by the Foreign Press Association to a hearing of the Knesset “sub-committee on legal warfare with respect to foreign media coverage – coverage which in the long-term erodes the legitimacy of (Israel’s) fight against terrorism”
1. May we state first that we disagree with the premise of the hearing – it presupposes two things: that the foreign media are biased and that that supposed bias undermines Israel’s ability to quell terrorist attacks. We do not agree that the foreign media are biased, and the legitimacy of Israel’s campaign against terrorism is entirely determined by how Israel conducts that campaign. It has nothing to do with the foreign media.
2. The foreign press/media corps in Israel and the Palestinian territories is made up of several hundred professional print, TV and photo journalists, around 400 of whom are members of the Foreign Press Association, all of whom have many years of experience in this region and around the world.
3. In order to work in Israel and the Palestinian territories, all members of the foreign press must apply for credentials issued by the Government Press Office. To receive the accreditation, members of the press must have a valid visa to work in the country and must sign a form agreeing to submit to Israeli government censorship when required.
4. This gives the Israeli government a high level of influence – it can revoke credentials if it has a problem with coverage, can limit the movement of foreign media into Gaza and around the occupied West Bank, thereby restricting coverage, and can place information under gag order to prevent it being published.
5. If anyone in Israel believes a libel has been committed, there are libel laws on the statute books and a case can be brought before the courts.
6. The Israeli government has many press officers and spokespeople dealing with the foreign media – whether in the prime minister’s office, the foreign ministry, government departments or the Israeli military – who are welcome to contact journalists to complain about coverage or put their side and they very often do.
7. There are non-government, pro-Israel media monitoring groups, such as CAMERA and Honest Reporting, that try to find errors or perceived bias in the foreign media’s coverage and make direct contact with senior editors to request corrections or changes. These groups are very active and foreign media editors take very seriously any errors brought to their attention. Corrections are frequently issued.
8. In countries such as the United Kingdom there is a Press Complaints Commission which Israel also has recourse to if it feels there is biased coverage against it.
9. While the foreign media tries to act with professionalism and balance, the Israeli Foreign Ministry took it upon itself last year to issue a YouTube video suggesting the foreign media were biased, ignorant and witless. After the blatant inaccuracy and imbalance of the video were pointed out, the Foreign Ministry withdrew it immediately.
10. The principal - although by no means the only - story the foreign media is covering in this region is the long-running conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. As with any conflict, there are at least two sides. The foreign media, like all media should, does its utmost to keep that in mind, never taking one side over the other or listening to one account exclusively – we report on both sides and try to reflect the complexity of the conflict to an international audience.
11. During the last four months of violence, repeated concerns have been raised by international leaders - including President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, the EU’s Federica Mogherini and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon – about Israel’s use of force to quell Palestinian attacks, with all of them urging proportionality and restraint. They have also expressed concerns about vigilantism by Israeli citizens after a call to arms by Jerusalem’s mayor Nir Barkat and other municipal leaders and the shooting/beating to death of an innocent Eritrean by Israelis at the bus station in Beer Sheva. Their comments and concerns have been covered widely by the Israeli and foreign media. The media is the messenger; the criticism has come from world leaders.
12. There are cases in which headlines in the international media have been poorly chosen and failed to accurately reflect developments on the ground. These have been pointed out and corrected as rapidly as possible. Mistakes are made in all professions. Isolated mistakes – and given the vast coverage of this story, they are extremely isolated – do not constitute institutional bias. It should also be pointed out that headlines are never the full story and are usually not written by journalists on the ground, but by editors sitting in New York, London or other headquarters.
13. Efforts to clamp down on the media, including sweeping allegations of media bias, state censorship and the detaining of members of the press, are the sort of actions usually associated with authoritarian governments in places such as Russia, Turkey or Saudi Arabia. It is unbecoming of a country like Israel, which likes to describe itself as the only democracy in the Middle East.
14. The Foreign Press Association makes every effort to meet with the prime minister’s office, the Foreign Ministry, the Israeli Defense Forces and other departments to discuss its activities and ensure the foreign media in Israel and the Palestinian territories are able to work freely and safely.
15. Our biggest concern is that the IDF often does not respond to requests to meet and has only taken action in cases of military aggression/harassment of journalists when there is video or photographic evidence, and not always then.
16. A free and open media is the bedrock of a democratic society. Parliamentary sub-committee hearings that start from the premise that the foreign media is biased tend to look like poorly conceived witch-hunts.
The Board of the Foreign Press Association, February 8th, 2016
On Friday, October 30th, Israeli border police officers physically assaulted several members of the Palestinian and international press, including members of the Foreign Press Association, as they attempted to cover clashes between Palestinian stone throwers and Israeli forces at Beit El, near Ramallah.
Several cameramen, a TV reporter and a photographer were hit, kicked and had pepper gas sprayed directly in their faces, causing serious injuries. In some cases journalists' gas masks were wrenched off their face so that pepper gas could be sprayed straight into their eyes. Palestinian medics who came to the scene to provide emergency assistance were also attacked with pepper spray. All of the journalists were clearly identified as members of the press and were standing away from the clashes. Footage of the incident is viewable here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YAho3DvNx9o and here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BuI-GtJOINs
This sort of behaviour by the border police is both abusive and a gross violation of press freedom, and yet it has become all too common, raising serious concerns about their ability to control their actions. One of the police officers involved today is known by name to the press and has earned a reputation for his aggressive actions. Despite repeated attempts by the Foreign Press Association to meet with commanders to discuss the situation, there has been no response from the Border Police or the Defence Ministry. This ignoring of the problem cannot continue. Video footage of past incidents has shown Israel's security forces to be the protagonist in several case, suggesting a systemic problem. We once again urge the border police and military commanders in the West Bank to control and restrain the forces under their command and to take up our request to discuss this deteriorating situation .
The Foreign Press Association understands a Palestinian posing as a local news photographer and wearing a t-shirt marked PRESS stabbed an Israeli soldier in Hebron today (Oct. 16). We utterly deplore this violation of press privilege and call on local Palestinian media organizations to immediately verify all media credentials to ensure there are no violations. The FPA represents the foreign media working in Israel and the Palestinian Territories and tightly restricts the issuance of FPA credentials. This attack was carried out by someone posing as a local Palestinian journalist. All the same, it marks a worrying development that demands that all media operate with heightened caution in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. This incident is also clearly of grave concern to the Israeli security forces. As the FPA, we try to work closely with the IDF and the Border Police to ensure coordination is clear and that all dangers are minimized. We urge the continuation of that cooperation and coordination to avoid any attack like this happening again in the future. 16th October 2015
Last night (October 14th ) the Jerusalem correspondent and a cameraman for France 2 were approaching the central bus station to cover the attack there, when they were warned by an IDF soldier not to film the events. The cameraman then turned to leave the site.
As he was leaving, he was attacked by several border policemen, despite having informed them in Hebrew that he was an accredited journalist. He was pushed to the ground, kicked and beaten by the men, including on his face and head. See: Footage of the incident
Notwithstanding the current stress and tension in Jerusalem, the FPA finds this violent behaviour by security forces toward foreign journalists absolutely inexcusable and abhorrent. We call on them to identify any misconduct on the part of their personnel, and issue clear instructions to commanders about allowing journalists to work freely.
The FPA requested a meeting with the head of the Border Police following a series of attacks in which journalists, and especially photojournalists, were subjected to unprovoked attacks. Thus far, our request has been ignored. 15th October 2015.
On Sunday, a New York Times video journalist was attacked and lightly injured by an angry mob of Palestinian youths following a demonstration in the city of Hebron. A car attempted to box in the journalist's vehicle, which was clearly marked with a "press" sign in the windshield. He also yelled in Arabic that he was a journalist. But in an unprovoked attack, the youths banged on the car and smashed the front and back windshields and threw rocks into the car, including one that struck him in the face. After the journalist managed to speed away, the car chased him for several minutes as he searched for Palestinian police. It only backed off when he turned into an Israeli military checkpoint. Although the incident occurred in Palestinian-controlled territory, Palestinian security forces were nowhere in sight. The Foreign Press Association calls on the Palestinian security forces to do their utmost to protect journalists at this sensitive time and uphold their stated commitment to freedom of the press. We also recommend that members exercise caution in unfamiliar areas and travel with a Palestinian fixer or colleague when entering Palestinian areas. 13th October 2015
The Foreign Press Association denounces in the strongest possible terms the deplorable behaviour of the IDF soldiers who set upon two AFP journalists near Nablus on Friday, harassing and beating them and smashing their equipment in an unprovoked attack. Both journalists had received permission to operate in the area and were clearly identified, wearing flak jackets marked "PRESS". Despite this, the IDF soldiers pointed their weapons at them, aggressively threw one to the ground, punched him in the ribs and held him pinned to the floor with a knee in the chest. Both had to be treated in hospital. A video camera and a photo camera were destroyed and another photo camera seized, causing several thousand euros of damage.
While it is welcome that the IDF has said it is investigating the incident "at the highest levels" our concern is that had this not been caught on camera, nothing would be done. Units of the IDF too frequently act with impunity and apparently outside of their orders in direct contradiction with the ideal of high morals Israel's military says it adheres to.
The Foreign Press Association has raised its concerns with the IDF on multiple occasions but seen no discernible change in behaviour. It is time for the IDF command to act, to show it respects the freedom of the press and that it has control over the behaviour of soldiers on the ground. September 26th, 2015
FPA Denounces Israeli Border Police Violence Towards Journalists
The Foreign Press Association denounces the Israeli Border Police’s treatment of journalists covering the disturbances at al-Aqsa compound on Sept. 13-14. Members of the police repeatedly beat, hit, violently shoved and used pepper spray against photographers and cameramen, despite the journalists having clearly identified themselves and not posing any threat to the police’s security operations. This type of behavior is unacceptable and yet has become routine, with the Border Police developing a reputation for unprovoked violence. Disturbingly, Border Police units on the ground also fail to recognize the press passes issued by Israel’s Government Press Office.
We call on the Israeli Defense Ministry to identify any misconduct and issue clear instructions to commanders about respecting the right of the press to work freely. We invite the head of the Border Police to sit down and discuss the issue. September 16th 2015