Ref: 26/2007

Date: 03 May  2007

  

PCHR Initiates the Proceedings of Conference on Media and Human Rights

On Thursday morning, 3 May 2007, PCHR opened the proceedings of “Conference on Media and Human Rights,” which is being held on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day. At least 200 persons have been invited to participate in the conference, including: media specialists; academics; and official and public figures.

The conference agenda focuses on two main issues:

1.      Mechanisms of protection and defense for journalists and media institutions; and

2.      The role of the media in the prevalence of human rights culture.

The conference is being held while BBC journalist Alan Johnston, who has been abducted in Gaza for nearly two months. PCHR hopes that this conference will serve as a step towards pressuring official bodies to intensify efforts to ensure Johnston’s release. In this context, PCHR has seized this opportunity to collate signatures of the participants in the conference on a petition to be submitted to the President of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas, and Prime Minister Ismail Haniya calling on them for immediate action to end Johnston’s suffering and ensure his immediate release.    

In his opening speech, Mr. Jaber Wishah, Deputy Director of PCHR, stressed that the conference is being held as Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) have continued systematic attacks on both Palestinian and international journalists in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, in an attempt to hide facts about their horrible practices against the Palestinian civilian population in the OPT. He pointed out that journalists have become also the target of attacks by irresponsible Palestinian groups, which do not realize the repercussion of their attacks against international journalists, including crimes of abduction.

Ms. Hiba Akkila, Correspondent of Al Jazeera Satellite Channel, facilitated the first session of the conference titled “Mechanisms of Protection and Defense for Journalists and Media Institutions.” The session included 5 interventions.

In the first intervention titled “Attacks on Press Freedoms, Journalists and Media Institutions,” Mr. Saif Al-Din Shahin, Correspondent of Al-Arabiya Satellite Channel, pointed out that journalists face disastrous conditions due to the ever-escalating qualitative and quantities attacks on them, in which most segments of the Palestinian society have been involves, including factions, families, groups and individuals. Mr. Shahin considered that the emerging and prevailing culture is the closed-minded one due to the absence of pluralism, especially as most factions practice this policy and incite against journalists and media institutions to force them to provide media reports that adhere to certain viewpoints.

In the second intervention titled “The Attorney-General’s Role in Investigating Attacks on Press Freedom,” Mr. Zain Al-Din Bsaisu, from the Attorney General Office, asserted that the Attorney General Office has not save any efforts to take necessary legal action against perpetrators of attacks against journalists. He added that such action has proved fruitful in some cases, but has failed in others due to the failure of law enforcement bodies to pursue the perpetrators or the failure of many parties to hand the perpetrators to the office. Mr. Bsaisu stressed that the Palestinian Executive, represented by security services, has failed to carry out their duties, and thus there has been an increase in the cases registered against unknown people. Many suspects of committing crimes, Mr. Bsaisu added, have not been arrested as factions or families have harbored them. Mr. Bsaisu also attributed the escalation in attacks against journalists to a number of reasons, including the failure to search for and arrest the perpetrators; the cover provided by factions and clans to the perpetrators; the adoption of the method of mediation to release abducted journalists; and the abstention of victims of such attacks from submitting claims to the Attorney General Office.

In the third intervention titled “The Role of Palestinian Journalists Syndicate in Defending Journalists,” Mr. Sakher Abu Al-Oun, Member of the Board of Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, pointed out the Syndicate has established a commission to defend press freedoms in light of the escalation in attacks against journalists, including the abduction of international ones. Mr. Abu al-Oun asserted that the Syndicate submitted many complaints to the Attorney General Office with regard to attacks on journalists perpetrated by people who are known, but it has not received any response to those complaints. He called upon the Attorney General Office to investigate all attacks against journalists.

In the fourth intervention titled “Palestinian Press Law: A Mechanism of Protection or Restriction of Press Freedoms,” Mr. Essam Younis, Director of Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, asserted that the Press Law is one of the oldest laws drafted by the Palestinian National Authority, but it has not presented to the Palestinian Legislative Council for approval, amendment or abolishment. He called upon the Council to consider this draft law. Mr. Younis stressed that the Press Law does not take many developments as the world develops while the draft law is old-fashioned. He further emphasized that the law impose several restrictions on press freedoms although it serves as a foundation for the practice of the profession.

In the fifth intervention titled “The Role of Human Rights Organizations in Defending Press Freedoms,” Mr. Khalil Abu Shammala, Director of Al-Dameer Association for Human Rights, asserted that the role of human rights organization in defending press freedoms can be summed up in:

1)      Making efforts to pressure for enacting laws that ensure protection for journalists and press freedoms;

2)      Raising the awareness of journalists of their roles; and

3)      Documenting attacks on journalists, as the OPT has been ranked as the 130th in the world with regard to respect for press freedoms.

In the conclusion of the first session, the facilitator opened the door for discussion and interventions.