Reading a report in today’s Guardian, that Libyan rebels in Misrata are starting to take a tough line on foreign reporters, citing security needs and fears of spies from Ghaddafi, one could be forgiven for being taken aback at the article’s neutral, non-judgemental tones, especially when one considers the way the Guardian and the rest of the international media were so outraged at Israel’s similar actions in barring journalists from Gaza during the war 2 years ago.
The Guardian reports today:
Rebel authorities in the besieged Libyan city of Misrata have introduced tough restrictions on foreign media, banning travel to the frontline, cutting internet access and ordering journalists to work only with officially approved translators.
Insurgent leaders had previously encouraged journalists to move and speak freely throughout the city and frontlines.
Frontline units said they were under instructions not to allow journalists access because of suspicions that some would be working for other interests.
“We are afraid of spies from Gaddafi,” said Mohammed Durat, head of the Misrata media centre and a member of the ruling city council. “You need a permission to work here.”
Reporters have been denied access to the media centre’s fast internet link, used by many foreign press to send stories.
Journalists are regularly questioned about whether there are spies operating among the foreign media, although Durat said he had no knowledge of such questioning. “We want to care about your safety, you should be happy about this,” he said.
The mood of officialdom is in sharp contrast to that around the city, where foreign reporters are still given free accommodation, and free travel from passing cars. Rebel units, doctors and other citizens have all voiced strong support for the foreign media.
Journalists who have registered with the rebel transitional national council have been ordered to register again with the Misrata authorities. Those failing to do so are required to leave. Translators also have to be approved, two of whom have been told they might need to return to Benghazi, the other major rebel city.
Durat insisted the rules were to meant to protect journalists. “We are caring about you, we don’t want you to get any bad thing,” he said.
And now let us compare the outraged attitude of all the major news broadcasters and journalists when Israel restricted journalists’ movements during the Gaza War of 2008-09.
Haaretz reported: Top media executives protest Israel’s ban on journalists’ entry to Gaza.
Leaders of the world’s biggest media organizations filed a protest with Israel’s prime minister Wednesday criticizing the government’s decision to ban journalists from entering the Gaza Strip for the last two weeks.
Those signing the letter included Associated Press Chief Executive and President Tom Curley, Reuters Editor-in-Chief David Schlesinger, New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller, ABC News President David Westin, BBC News Director Helen Boaden and other top executives from CNN, the Canadian TV network CTV, the German broadcaster ZDF, and the French news service Agence France Presse.
“We are gravely concerned about the prolonged and unprecedented denial of access to the Gaza Strip for the international media,” they wrote in the letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Mark Regev, a spokesman for Olmert, confirmed that the letter had been received. Journalists were not being singled out, he said, but were affected by a broader decision to close the crossings:
“There is no policy to prevent the media from entering Gaza, and the minute the security situation allows for the normal functioning of the crossings, journalists, like all of the others who have been inconvenienced, will be able to return to using the crossings.”
The Israeli government has long banned Israeli journalists from entering Gaza because of fears for their safety, but foreign reporters have been permitted to go in, even during times of heavy fighting. In the past two weeks, coverage in Gaza has been largely left to local Palestinian staffers and a handful of foreign journalists who entered before the closure went into effect, including two AP reporters.
Shlomo Dror, a spokesman for Israel’s Defense Ministry, said journalists would be allowed in only once Gaza militants stopped shooting and said Gaza was being adequately covered by reporters already there.
At least one can give credit to Haaretz for giving the Israeli point of view.
The Guardian at that time also vociferously protested the bar on journalists:
Throughout the two-week bombardment of the Gaza Strip most journalists have been kept out by the Israeli government on the pretext of security. And the Israelis are pleased with the results.
Note that word “pretext” – as if the violence from Gaza was simply a made-up story by Israel.
Foreign journalists have been forced to report without getting to the detail of what is going on. That meant, at least in the early days of the bombardment, that reporters who would have been in Gaza were instead reporting from Israeli towns and cities under fire from Hamas, and Israeli officials found it easier to get themselves in front of a television camera.
Oh dear! Foreign journalists were “forced” (was someone holding a gun to their head?) to give the Israeli side for a change. They did, however, give a grudging paragraph to explain the Israeli position and admit that it is not only Israel who commits such “atrocities” against journalists:
Israel says there is no formal ban on reporters entering Gaza and that they are prevented only by the security situation. But the government has failed to implement a high court order to let in reporters when the principal crossing is open.
Israel is not alone in this. British forces restricted access by journalists to parts of Afghanistan because of government fears about public reaction to pictures of dead Afghans. The US has manipulated coverage from Iraq, via the policy of embedding journalists with troops and discouraging “unilateral” reporters.
The difference in the reactions of the foreign media to both war zones – Libya and Gaza – are outstanding and clearly evident even to the untrained eye. Is no one embarrassed at the overt hypocrisy?
I am waiting with unbated breath (I wouldn’t want to risk my health) for a similar outraged condemnation by the Guardian or any of the alphabet soup of foreign media associations (ABC, BBC, NBC, CNN etc.) of the Libyan rebels’ restrictions on journalists in their war zone.