Israel at war with media; Explosion hits media offices in Gaza

Reply Thu 15 Jan, 2009 10:52 am
Explosion hits media offices in Gaza
Thu Jan 15, 2009
GAZA, Jan 15, 2009 (Reuters)

An explosion blasted a tower block in the city of Gaza on Thursday that houses the offices of Reuters and several other media organisations.

Colleagues said a journalist for the Abu Dhabi television channel had been wounded.

Reuters journalists working there at the time said an Israeli missile or shell appeared to have struck the southern side of the 13th floor of the Al-Shurouq Tower in the city centre.

Reuters evacuated the bureau, though a live camera feed that has been providing images from Gaza throughout the war continued to function. Live television images from another site showed smoke pouring from the upper floors of the 16-storey building.

Colleagues said at least one journalist working for Abu Dhabi television on the 14th floor was wounded.

The 13th floor houses a local television production company. The Reuters bureau is on the 12th floor.

Reuters journalists on the spot said they had not been aware of any presence of armed men in the building beforehand.

An Israeli army spokesman had spoken with Reuters staff in Jerusalem shortly before the explosion to check the location of the Reuters bureau in Gaza. Reuters had provided the coordinates of its office to the army at the start of the war and was assured on several occasions that it was not a target.

An army spokeswoman said after the blast that she was checking. She said troops were engaged with Hamas guerrillas in exchanges of fire in the city and said fighters had taken over a media office in the same area late on Wednesday.

During the U.S. assault on Baghdad in April 2003, a Reuters cameraman was killed and three colleagues were wounded when a U.S. tank fired at the Reuters bureau in the Palestine Hotel. A Spanish television cameraman was also killed.
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Reply Thu 15 Jan, 2009 10:59 am
Israel media on defensive over Gaza war coverage
1 day ago

JERUSALEM (AFP) " Israel's usually unforgiving media has had to fend off accusations that it has practised self-censorship and muzzled dissent with its overtly patriotic coverage of the army's offensive in Gaza.

As the first jets began pounding the Hamas-ruled enclave on December 27 and rockets slammed into southern Israel, radio and television channels launched round-the-clock coverage of the fighting with a distinctly patriotic tinge.

While international networks tagged the conflict "War in Gaza" and led with images of Palestinian casualties, Israeli channels called it "War in the South" and despatched their anchors to towns which have been hit by Hamas rockets.

The following day, Israel's major newspapers hailed the surprise air strikes with front-page headlines such as "Better Late Than Never" in the largest circulation Yediot Aharonot and "Fighting Back" in the rival Maariv.

"The media's coverage of the first days of the fighting was characterised by feelings of self-righteousness and a sense of catharsis following what was felt to be undue restraint in the face of attacks by the enemy, along with support for the military action and few expressions of criticism," said Yizhar Be'er, head of Keshev, an Israeli media watchdog.

A senior editor of the privately owned Channel 10 News, admitted, asking not to be identified: "There is a patriotic coverage of the war, but not as a result of conscious decision."

Reports of the devastation inside Gaza were given little attention by the Israeli outlets other than the liberal Haaretz daily, a Keshev report said.

For example, much of the media gave scant coverage to the killing of nearly 50 people in strikes on three UN schools on January 6, which the army initially said were used as militant hide-outs but later admitted were mistakenly hit.

"There was no independent investigation of the facts by the media, which relied on the army's version and not on facts from the ground, even though even the army spokesman was uncertain about the facts," Be'er told AFP.

The Israeli media played a pivotal role in criticising and exposing failures of military top brass and the government during the 2006 war against Lebanon's Hezbollah militia, which led to public uproar and a national inquiry that accused Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government of severe shortcomings.

But in Operation Cast Lead, little criticism has been voiced, critics say.

"Opinions criticising the decision to launch the offensive or the army's conduct during the war are hardly heard," eight Israeli human rights groups wrote in a letter to newspaper editors, broadcasters and websites.

The news editor for Channel 10 said his outlet does report on "massive killing incidents in Gaza, but there is little criticism over these incidents" due to the army's tight control over information coming out of Gaza.

Israel's refusal to allow any journalists into the Hamas enclave for months and the army's tight control on information coming off the battlefields has further hampered access to independent information, he said.

"There are no means to develop criticism because we receive very few details from the army on the fighting inside Gaza... When there is no criticism there is more room for patriotism."

While the death of some 120 soldiers in the Lebanon war fuelled criticism of the conflict, only 10 have been killed this time around.

Senior Haaretz columnist Akiva Eldar said the bulk of Israel's media paints the country's recent wars as a battle for the Jewish state's survival.

"Since the outbreak of the second intifada (Palestinian uprising) in 2000, the media has said that the Palestinians brought it upon themselves," Eldar said.

"The second Israeli civilians are hurt in attacks inside the country, the media presents Israel's response as a 'battle for our home' and 'a defensive war of no choice'."
Reply Thu 15 Jan, 2009 11:02 am
Israel explains Gaza media restrictions
Israel's media restrictions have prevented journalists from entering Gaza

GAZA-ISRAEL BORDER (CNN) -- From a distance, smoke rises over Gaza. It is about as close as most reporters can get to the battle zone.

The world's media have been camped on the Israeli border with Gaza.

Israel's media restrictions have prevented dozens of international journalists from entering Gaza, where the Jewish state is waging an operation against militant targets.

International news media are forced to report on the more than two-week-old conflict from a hill near the Gaza-Israel border. CNN relies on a local journalist in Gaza, but cannot send other reporters into the Palestinian territory. In addition, Egypt is also not allowing journalists to cross its border into Gaza.

"It's really frustrating, you can't be there, see there and feel it," said CNN's Nic Robertson. "And you see these pictures from the hospital, but what's happening behind the hospital? What's Hamas doing?"

Israel has accused Hamas militants of exploiting the deaths of civilians to garner international sympathy through the media. Robertson pointed out that allowing reporters into Gaza would give the world a more thorough picture of Israel's military operation.

"The questions we would ask that go beyond the immediacy of the civilian casualties that you want to know about, but the other stuff that really informs you," he said.

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It is a very different strategy from Israel's position during its 2006 war against Hezbollah militants in Lebanon. Then, reporters were allowed to broadcast from Israeli artillery positions.

But this time, Israel has changed its tactics and is preventing international reporters from being embedded with the military to avoid interference in military operations, an Israeli government spokesman said.

"There was too much exposure," Daniel Seaman said. "It had an effect on our ability to achieve strategic goals, so that's one of the lessons we learned from the war in Lebanon."

Some Israeli journalists are embedded with the military in Gaza but are not allowed to report from elsewhere.

The Tel Aviv-based Foreign Press Association -- of which CNN is a member -- is among several groups that have criticized the restrictions.

"The unprecedented denial of access to Gaza for the world's media amounts to a severe violation of press freedom and puts the state of Israel in the company of a handful of regimes around the world which regularly keep journalists from doing their jobs," the association said in a January 6 statement.

John Ging, the head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in Gaza, said the absence of journalists is preventing the truth from getting out.

Herve Deguine, a spokesman for the Paris, France-based Reporters Without Borders, said the dangers of the current conflict do not override the need for media coverage.

"Of course it's a dangerous place, of course journalists have to take the responsibilities and have to decide whether they want to go in or not and where they want to be," Deguine said.

"But banning the press to enter Gaza is just unacceptable."

Almost two weeks into the operation, Israel did allow a western camera crew across the border. But footage shot by the BBC crew was subject to clearance by Israeli military censors.

Images from inside Gaza did filter out to the world from journalists based inside Gaza who work for news agencies such as Ramattan and broadcasters like Al-Jazeera.

Inside Gaza, Hamas has controlled the images broadcast by the media, and pictures of suffering have been encouraged. But the outside world has seen very few images of Hamas fighters or their rockets being fired into Israel.

Both the Israeli military and Hamas have launched pages on the Web site, YouTube. Israel Defense Forces says the shared video is "documentation of the IDF's humane action and operational success in Operation Cast Lead."

Hamas' video shows graphic scenes from the fighting and also attacks its political rival, Fatah.

In times of war, the line between winning and losing can come down to the public relations battle as much as the military offensive itself.

But for journalists, it's about finding a balance in the story -- a difficult task when they are unable to cover all the angles.
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