Will Palestinians Have Freedom of the Press?

Article excerpt

Last December, for the first time in nine years, Yosef Ahmad traveled outside the Gaza strip. Raised in one of the refugee camps that dot the territory then occupied by Israel, the 28-year-old aspiring television news producer was headed to Holland with several other journalists to receive a month of intensive training from the BBC.

With Palestinian self-rule in Gaza and Jericho about to replace the Israeli military occupation, many residents were anxious to establish their own media. Soon after the peace agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization last fall, the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) was founded to oversee the creation of a government-controlled TV and radio network.

Many Palestinian journalists suspect a free press is not in Yasir Arafat's plans. Most likely, they say, he will follow the lead of other Arab leaders and tightly control the media.

Press freedom is not mentioned in the draft constitution, although PLO officials seem to grasp the concept. After being criticized for asking journalists covering Arafat's symbolic arrival in Gaza to pay for the privilege, the head of the PLO's press operations acknowledged it "may have infringed on the freedom of the press" and nixed the idea.

Arafat, however, apparently has no intention to delegate media control to anyone but his supporters. After Yosef Ahmad returned home early this year, he learned he was not among those who would be groomed for the PBC's television operation. Instead, most if not all of the candidates are members of Fatah, Arafat's PLO faction, and the PBC itself will be headed by Radwan Abu Ayyash, a Fatah loyalist.

"They want people who will adopt their policies," says Ahmad, "and I won't do that."

Sam'an Khoury, the PBC's deputy director, suggests that his own loyalty to the Palestinian Democratic Party, an "opposition" group that has supported Arafat on most matters, demonstrates that non-Fatahs are not being shut out. …