Palestine Cracks Down on Broadcast Media

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December 18, 1998


His Excellency Yasser Arafat
President
Palestinian National Authority
Gaza City, Gaza


Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a non-governmental organization of journalists dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide, is writing to strongly condemn the Palestinian National Authority's (PNA) closure today of six television and radio stations in the West Bank.

On December 18, Palestinian police ordered six private television and radio stations in the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem to suspend broadcasting until further notice. The move has been widely interpreted as an attempt by authorities to silence news coverage pertaining to the current U.S. military attack on Iraq, now in its third day.

Police verbally informed three Bethlehem-based television stations--Al-Roa' TV, Al-Mahid TV, and Bethlehem TV--that they must suspend all broadcasts immediately. According to journalists, police failed to provide a written order or reason for the suspensions. Three stations in Ramallah--Al-Watan TV, Nasr TV, and the radio station Voice of Love and Peace--were also forced off the air under similar circumstances. Unconfirmed reports suggest that the decision to close the six stations followed a decision from the High Security Council, which Your Excellency heads.

Broadcasters believe that the closures have come in direct response to their coverage in recent days of the US military strikes, including their coverage of anti-U.S. sentiment and expressions of sympathy with Iraq from Palestinians. According to the Associated Press (AP) "Al-Watan TV had broadcast pro-Iraqi interviews; Al-Nasr TV had broadcast nationalist music; and the Voice of Peace had devoted its broadcasts on Thursday to a popular nationalist Iraqi singer." Al-Roa' TV yesterday aired a live panel discussion which heavily criticized U.S. President Bill Clinton for the military strikes.

Today's incidents are reminiscent of restrictions imposed on broadcasters last February when the Ministry of Information, in a directive issued to the Palestinian media on February 15, banned all broadcasting of opinion and analysis about the standoff between United Nations weapons inspectors and Iraq. Journalists and observers at the time interpreted the move as an attempt by the PNA to curtail media coverage of pro-Iraqi sentiment among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Authorities said that the purpose of the ban was to safeguard "higher Palestinian national interests and for the sake of protecting Palestinian security." One day after its imposition, more than 100 police surrounded the offices of Al-Roa' and forced the station to suspend broadcasting. Al-Roa' had earlier broadcast news about pro-Iraqi demonstrations in the West Bank and had aired a program where viewers were able to phone in to express solidarity with Iraq. On February 18, Palestinian police chief Ghazi Jebali asked television and radio stations to sign a pledge that they would refrain from broadcasting "any news or footage of mass demonstrations or any other sensitive materials," or face closure.

In a separate incident today, authorities from the PNA's Anti-Crime Unit ordered the closure of the Associated Press'(AP) Gaza bureau after informing local staffers of the decision. According to AP, no explanation has been provided for the closure.

The Committee to Protect Journalists views the actions taken by the PNA against the media as attempts to silence independent journalism in flagrant violation of the right to free expression, as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 19 guarantees the right of journalists and individuals to "seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

We respectfully urge Your Excellency to immediately reverse the closures imposed on El-Watan TV, Nasr TV, Roa' TV, Voice of Love and Peace, Al-Mahid TV, Bethlehem TV, and the Associated Press. We further ask that you ensure the ability of journalists to report news and opinion freely, without reprisal.

Thank you for your attention to these important matters. We look forward to a reply at your earliest convenience.

Sincerely,

Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director



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His Excellency Yasser Arafat
President
Palestinian National Authority
Gaza City, Gaza
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