by Emily Lawrence
Media experts, journalists and prominent academics gathered in Jerusalem yesterday for the launch of the Palestine-Israel Journal's media policy paper, Media Guidelines for Covering the Middle East Conflict, produced in conjunction with the Peace Education Through Media (PET-Med) project.
The paper summarizes the findings of three expert roundtable discussions held throughout 2010-11. It analyses the role of the media in the region and includes recommendations for media professionals covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"During periods of war and violent conflict, the function of the print and electronic media to narrate and disseminate information to the public is all the more crucial," states the policy paper's Executive Summary. "The outcome of the Israel-Palestine conflict is especially dependent on media shaping."
The project, sponsored by the European Union’s Partnership for Peace program, reached its climax at a conference in the Notre Dame Hotel in Jerusalem on January 30th, 2012, which officially launched the policy paper and offered participants the chance to discuss its content and recommendations.
Beatrice Campodonico, representative from the EU Office in Jerusalem, described the launch of the paper as a "starting point" of an ongoing drive to encourage journalists to shape peaceful attitudes instead of perpetuating conflict. While noting that “words can kill,” she praised the paper and called on journalists to practice "courage and steadfastness to apply the media guidelines."
Carlo Clini, one of the two representatives of the Veneto Region present together with Daniela Casale, expressed pride in being partners in this significant project.
The conference included discussion between panel members, both Israeli and Palestinian, as well as international participants. One of the main topics discussed was the lack of knowledge within Israeli society about Palestinian issues, and the need for translation of Palestinian viewpoint articles from the Palestinian media to Hebrew to facilitate better understanding of the 'other'.
"The media plays a negative role in the conflict," said Danny Rubinstein, an Israeli journalist and media lecturer in two universities. "A lot of Israeli issues are covered in the Palestinian press, but no articles from the Palestinian press are translated into Hebrew. No Palestinians are seen; Israelis are not interested - for them the Palestinians do not exist. In the Israeli press they don't see the Palestinians, the Palestinians do not exist in the Israeli mind," added Rubenstein.
Veteran Palestinian journalist Samaan Khoury, as he opened the discussion said, "One of the tools of control of the Zionist movement is to stereotype Arabs as barbaric, and it is difficult for the Israeli press to challenge the stereotypes," he added. He noted that if words can kill, “words can also cure.”
Many of the participants agreed with the policy paper's recommendation that Palestinian news should be translated into Hebrew and included in the Israeli press, as part of an effort to inform Israeli readers about the reality of the military occupation and issues facing Palestinians in the West Bank.
Benjamin Pogrund, a former South African editor and journalist, and currently a member of the PIJ editorial board, said he found it "disturbing" that the press is not interested in representing the other, and compared the situation to what happened during the apartheid period in South Africa.
"There was not much interaction between black and white people under apartheid, but there was some attempt to tell each other's news," he said. "The information coming out of Ramallah is available to Israeli press through agencies, so why don’t they use it? We need to encourage a culture of interest in the other."
Other issues which were identified as prohibiting transparency and understanding of the other in the media were the lack of freedom of movement for journalists, censorship, and the current climate which affects the ability of Palestinians and Israelis to meet and work together.
One of the recommendations of the paper is that 'Co-operation is vital' between Israel and Palestinian media professionals. Overall, the panel members agreed that the Palestine-Israel Journal (PIJ) has an important and unique role to play in encouraging this co-operation, and in crossing the divide between Israeli and Palestinian society, particularly in the current environment of suspicion or ignorance about the 'other'.
The Media Guidelines Policy Paper will be available on the PIJ website in English, Hebrew and Arabic versions.