Mar 10 2010

Palestinian Censorship, Self-Censorship and the Failure of Leadership

Published by at 11:28 pm under Rediscovering Israel

Free speech in Canada is considered under siege by those who feel that Human Rights Commissions, special interests and fifth-columnist Islamist movements are using the wedge of political correctness to dislodge our well-established civil rights. But the situation for Palestinian media publishers as well as bloggers provides a bit of perspective on what it really looks like when free speech can't be taken for granted. And when we try to help Palestinians to achieve something like our own level of freedom, it has some very unintended consequences.

Censorship by both Fatah and Hamas as well as self-censorship by ordinary Palestinians to avoid violent retribution is causing immense demoralization, says Palestinian blogger Ziad Khalil Abu Zayyad. "There is only one newspaper in the West Bank and that is Fatah's propaganda paper. There is only one newspaper in Gaza and that is Hamas' mouthpiece… If you write anything that disagrees with the party line, the editor will refuse to publish it and it won't get published online because people fear that if they do that, they will be followed."

AMIN Media Network Executive Director Khaled Abu Aker seemed more optimistic about the possibilities of blogs to substitute for the lack of a marketplace of ideas in traditional media outlets such as TV, radio and print. "The old media is dying and more and more people are getting their information over the Internet," he said. But he acknowledged the lack of legitimacy and oversight for blogs and sites that can be published by anyone with no concern for higher journalism standards to avoid libel and defamation.

Abu Zayyad was not convinced. "Blogs can be very useful, but they cannot be a substitute for all other types of media," he said. He suggested that Palestinians would have to develop better leadership in order to deliver more freedom of speech to overcome the repression. He touches on this in his blog when he writes on Lessons in Leadership, though in a style that leaves one with the distinct impression that he has engaged in a bit of unconscious self-censorship himself:

Once we succeed in creating a shield that is made of everything good we did, we may succeed in facing any kind of pain and turning it into a temporary experience that becomes a source for learning about the future. We become controllers instead of being controlled. Our decisions will be made out of the abilities and strength we have instead of the fear that we face.

IIf there is a solution, it may have to come from Palestinians themselves, given how awesomely counter-productive international efforts from Canada, Israel and the rest of the international community have been. Palestinian Affairs correspondent Khaled Abu Toameh is practically mournful on this topic. "You are funding Palestinian television, radio stations and newspapers with millions of dollars so that they can incite people to kill Jews. If anyone watches Palestinian television for just five minutes, they'll want to go out and stab Jews immediately. Palestinians have been fed a steady stream of this hate for years and your taxpayer dollars are funding it."

There's no getting around the fact that the money poured into the Palestinian Authority to help develop a marketplace of ideas has only resulted in a media industry that would scandalize any nation or non-governmental organization, with the possibly exception of Al Queda. Actually, this is par for the course for the return on investment of the billions of dollars that mostly gone to lining the pockets of corrupt bureaucrats and homicidal maniacs.

Can new Palestinian voices come forward despite the violence and repression of their governing regimes to change this system fundamentally into something other than a mass media hate-fest? It's a bad bet. But in the meantime, what we're doing isn't helping. Perhaps the Canadian government's new approach of targeted funding to programs like food aid that bypasses the Islamist kleptocracies will be a marginal improvement. Keep people fed, but don't feed the hate.

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