News / 07.12.2010

Journalism under occupation

By Linus Atarah

After sixty-two years of living under Israeli occupation – possibly the longest occupation in history – most of the news coming out of Palestine has been focused on the attendant violence, civil wars and uprisings. But Palestinians would like the outside world have a different view of life inside the occupied territories other than violence and death, says Fadi Abu Sada, director of Palestine News Network (PNN).

However, western news agencies that constitute the major source of news from the region ignore news about the daily lives of Palestinians and only go after the hard news which is presumed more newsworthy.

It is very hard, says Fada Abu Sada, to convince western news media to write about a fashion show taking place in Palestine or even sports in Palestine, because outside news outlets are not interested in those and instead, report mostly about the conflict because it is hard news and easier for them to cover.

Nevertheless the tendency to focus on news connected with the occupation is also found among the old generation of Palestinian journalists who were born and raised during the occupation and up to the time of the first intifada in 1987.

There is therefore a conflict between this old generation of journalists who don’t want to “think outside the box” and write about anything else other than the occupation, and a new generation of journalists who follow trends in the new media linked to the Internet such as Face Book and YouTube, and would therefore like to give a picture of life in Palestine outside the occupation, says Abu Sada.

As he points, all information about the conflict that has been going on since 1948 can easily be downloaded from the Internet but Palestinians would like the outside world to know that life goes on in Palestine in spite of the occupation.

Fadi Abu Sada was speaking in a seminar in Finland at invitation of The Finnish Foundation for Media, Communication and Development (VIKES) last week.

VIKES in collaboration with Diakoni Univeristy of Applied Sciences in Turku and the Bethlehem University has been providing assistance in journalism and media training in Palestine since 2008.

The PNN was established in 2002 to help news media in Palestine produce their own news about Palestine instead of relying solely on international news agencies and on news media in neighbouring Lebanon and Israel.

Abu Sada describes the news gathering situation in 2002 when he returned to Palestine from studies abroad as chaotic, because “there were many local radio stations and television under the Palestinian Authority (PA) but they had no infrastructure such newsrooms, editors and reporters because it was very expensive and so they relied on foreign news outlets and not news generated from within Palestine”.

Bu the main goal of PNN, he says, is to serve as a major source of news for the international media.

“We would like to be recognized as a professional news outlet that could serve as a source for international news agencies and newspapers internationally. Most of the international news agencies are based in the West Bank and in Israel and so their main source is from there and not from inside Palestine”, said Abu Sada.

But the PNN news gathering activities, he says, is hampered by many obstacles, not least because the Palestinian territories are controlled by different factions both exercising censorship on the media.

“There are so many taboos in Palestine”, he says. For instance, politically sensitive corruption cases can neither be published in the Gaza Strip nor in the West Bank. So the PNN reporters based in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip cannot publish any news there which is critical of Hamas and therefore will have to pass it to the Palestinian Authority-c controlled West Bank to be published. PNN journalists in Gaza often operate anonymously for fear of repercussion.

In the same way it cannot publish any news critical of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and would therefore have to send it over to Gaza to be published. But the censorship does not end there. The Israelis, during their invasion of Lebanon in 2006 did not allow the Israeli media to publish Israeli war casualties and so it had to be reported by the PNN and then picked up by the Israeli media.

“This works likes a closed circuit but it is the only way to inform the people and send the information out to the public”, says Abu Sada.

A special difficulty is that journalism training in Palestine Universities is too focused on theory – mainly from a curriculum designed in the 1970s – and so journalists have no practical journalistic skills. Therefore Fadi Abu Sada outlined three specific needs from external partners who would like to provide assistance in training journalists.

The first is help train journalists on investigative journalism which, according to him, is “a non-existent culture”. The other is to improve on the production of radio features which can be exchanged across the Palestinian territories in order to highlight on the people’s daily life situation. Assistance will also be needed to help train people in citizens’ journalism, not at the professional level as such but training ordinary people at the grassroots level in the use of video and how to take photos and write SMS messages.

“I believe everyone in Palestine can be a journalist”, he declares.

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