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Media Notes
by Judy Lash Balint
June 10, 2002

Jerusalem is one of the most media-saturated capitals in the world. At any one time there are more than 600 permanently stationed correspondents here. That number gets greatly inflated every time a US president or secretary of state drops in, or whenever Israel decides to mount any kind of military campaign to try to clean up terror nests. During Operation Defensive Shield, an additional 1500 journalists parachuted in to catch the action.

All this media activity makes Israel a great place to observe the fourth estate at work. Media Notes will bring you regular reports of media happenings in Israel--items and observations that might help explain the way news from Israel comes out of your TV or across the pages of your local newspaper.

So--let's get right to it. Over the past several months, Israel Government Press Office (GPO) director, Daniel Seaman, has been trying to get the foreign news bureaux to abide by Israeli law. The law many of the news organizations are breaking is the employment of illegal workers. In order for foreign journalists to get access to stories in Area A, areas under complete Palestinian civil and security control, they rely on Arab "fixers." They're young, well-educated, English-speaking Arabs who know their way around Ramallah, Jenin, Nablus and Gaza. People who can translate and generally grease the right wheels in the Palestinian hierarchy to ensure the safety of their employers. Of course, the fixers make sure full hospitality is extended to their bosses too, and the stage is thus set for the journalist's next story to be told through Arab eyes.

Danny Seaman discovered that many of the 400 fixers carrying Israeli GPO credentials were, in fact, working in Israel ilegally. They had no valid papers to be in Israel at all. So Danny told the New York Times, LA Times, CNN, ABC, NBC, BBC and every other news outlet, that the Israeli government would not tolerate the employment of illegal workers.

Meantime, another downside to the use of Palestinian journalists has emerged. Five cameramen and photographers working for western news services were taken into custody recently and held under suspicion of involvement in terrorist activity.

Those detained include Jussry al-Jamal, a 23-year-old Reuters television cameraman, who was detained April 30 in Hebron, and Hussam Abu Alan, a photographer with the French news agency Agence France-Presse.

Suhaib Salem, 24, a photographer for the Reuters news agency, was arrested while trying to cross a Gaza strip checkpoint on May 22 allegedly with a grenade in his vehicle.

Two thoughts come to mind: Firstly, with these kind of cameramen, is it any wonder that the images now so commonly associated with the war here are of the David (Palestinians) vs. Goliath (Israel) variety; secondly, could one imagine the fate of news photographers caught with explosives in their press vehicles in the US, Canada or the UK? Here, Salam, the brother of dead terrorist Salah Salam, one of the men involved in the kidnapping and killing of Israeli soldier Cpl. Nachson Waxman in 1994, was released and sent on his way after 5 days detention.
Documedia is an Israeli TV show dedicated to media analysis and commentary. Last week's show featured Danny Seaman, the GPO director: Yossi OImert, a former GPO director, and Jay Bushinsky, veteran US radio correspondent, who worked for CNN in Jerusalem during the first intifada in the late 1980s. They were brought together to discuss the CNN treatment of the bereaved mother who lost her 18 month old daughter and mother at an Islamikaze terror attack on a Petach Tikva ice cream parlor.

CNN has taken to filming interviews with the mothers of Arab homicide perpetrators, in a manner that would make advertisers drop like flies in any other context. The Petach Tikva attack took place on Monday May 27. CNN waited until Friday, May 31 to film an interview with the bereaved parents, Lior and Chen Keinan. In a live segment aired on CNN USA, the Keinans delivered their message to the American people. The footage scheduled to go out on CNN International, which would have garnered a far larger audience in countries all over the world besides the US, never made it to the screen. Instead, viewers were treated to the interview with an Islamikaze mother, lauding the deeds of her son.

Only the next day, was an edited portion of the Keinan interview aired. When called on the carpet by Israel's Foreign Ministry, CNN's initial reaction was " no comment." Only after an avalanche of consumer outcry, did the Atlanta based station issue a tepid apology.

On Documedia, Seaman noted that complaints from his office and the Foreign Ministry to CNN are sloughed off as "propagandistic" and "one-sided." Fellow panelist, Olmert, added fuel to the fire, charging that Bob Miller, a Jewish CNN correspondent during the first intifada, had issued explicit instructions to remove the mezuzah on the CNN office door. He claimed that he had also seen Miller walking around town with a T shirt proclaiming, "The Intifada will Win."

Bushinsky didn't confirm or deny that assertion, but he pointed out another factor affecting coverage. Bushinsky explained that Arabs treat journalists far better than Israelis. Arab hospitality is legendary and Arabs will go out of their way to welcome journalists and spend hours patiently explaining their point of view. Most Israelis have such a negative view of the way Israel is portrayed in the media, that they generally are quite hostile to visiting correspondents, and don't hesitate to berate them for their coverage. So guess who's going to get the sympathetic coverage--the guy who served you Turkish coffee and invites you back to meet his daughter; or the market stall holder who calls you an anti-Semite?