WaPo Falls Short in Reporting Press Restrictions

In its May 16 edition, the Washington Post runs an article by correspondent William Booth about restrictions faced by Palestinian and Israeli journalists in covering each other's turf ("Palestinian journalists campaign to restrict Israeli counterparts' access" page A10).

Booth leads off with a campaign by Palestinian journalists to limit their Israeli counterparts' access to cover Palestinian parts of the West Bank. "For the first time, Palestinian authorities say they will require all Israeli journalists to apply for press credentials; those without may be escorted away by police," Booth reports.

And, of course, press access conditions are even worse in Gaza where Israel forbids its reporters to enter lest they be kidnapped by the Hamas terrorist regime -- a fact acknowledged by Booth.

So far, so good.

Booth, however, comes perilously close to drawing an equivalence between press restrictions bedeviling Israeli and Palestinian reporters. While about 50 Palestinian journalist have credentials issued by the Israeli government, Booth belittles this fact by adding that almost all of them work for international organizations. Only a handful of Palestinian reporters working for West Bank or Gaza media "can report in Israel, and their movements can be severely restricted," he adds.

And Booth sums up with a quote from a Palestinian-American about the absence of Israeli reporters in the West Bank -- "It is understandable. It is natural to want to block someone who is blocking you. It's a reaction to the situation. It is a reaction to the stress."

In other words, Booth's bottom line is that press freedom is a problematic commodity on both sides of the divide -- a baseless conclusion.


Because of what Booth leaves out from his dispatch -- how there can be no comparison whatever between brutal crackdowns on gutsy Palestinian journalists by Palestinian authorities in both the West Bank and Gaza with the wide-open freedoms of Israeli media. Palestinian reporters who are courageous enough to criticize Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are apt to be detained and spend some time behind bars. Israeli reporters operate under no such danger. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu receives pitiless scrutiny from Israeli journalists who feel no need to tiptoe to any official line.

In Israel, there's a sharp dividing line between the press and the government. In the Palestinian territories, too many Palestinian journalists take the easy way out and allow themselves to become handmaidens of the ruling cliques -- whether in Gaza or in the West Bank.

Unfortunately, Booth misses this point completely.

Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers

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