In light of the controversy over the January 19 Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) reception which included a press conference with Prime Minister Sharon, we leave it to reader's discretion to resolve whether Macdonald's actions crossed the bounds of acceptable journalistic conduct.
(1) Macdonald, CBC's Mideast correspondent, sent an email to his colleagues in the Foreign Press Association (FPA) advising that "on an official level, let the FPA send a single representative to the reception. Meanwhile, I intend to be absent. And I urge my colleagues to find other work that day, too."
The issue is not who germinated the idea. The issue is Macdonald instigating support for a boycott – which is a documented fact.
Macdonald's plan to send one person to an event, where 300 are expected, seems an attempt to publicly embarrass, if not the prime minister himself, then at least the event's sponsor – the GPO, a branch within the prime minister's office.
(2) This entire issue is not arising in a vacuum. Macdonald and CBC have long been criticized for biased reporting against Israel, and Macdonald has been outspoken in opposing the GPO's policy of press credentials for Palestinians.
If a journalist objects to the policy, there are ways to express that dissatisfaction, which do not compromise one's professional integrity. Reuters, for example, has taken the issue of press credentials to court, and the Israeli High Court of Justice is now deciding according to Western standards of freedom and democracy.
For more background on this topic, see below.
(3) CBC claims that Macdonald only intended to boycott the first half of the event – the GPO reception, but not the second half – the prime minister's press conference.
Yet according to GPO Director Danny Seaman, who issued the invitation: "The CBC denial is misleading. This has always been regarded as one event, not two. The original invitation that we sent to the journalists presents it as one event – same date, exact same location, same invitees, one RSVP, with no break in-between the reception and the press conference."
Further, email exchanges between Macdonald and FPA colleagues show that attendance at the news conference was in fact raised as an issue, and that the word "reception" was being used by journalists to refer to both the reception and press conference – as it is on three occasions in the following email from one of Macdonald's colleagues:
"I think boycotting the New Year reception with the prime minister is a mistake that unnecessarily escalate the relations with the GPO and the PMO. I suggest we attend the reception, ask whatever questions we think we need to ask and make a point that despite the hard feeling among some of the foreign journalists we are still capable of honoring our impartiality and attend a reception for the prime minister."
Though CBC did send another representative to cover the press conference, Macdonald himself did not attend any part of the January 19 event, neither the reception nor the press conference.
We present the facts, outline the standards of honest reporting, and let members draw their own conclusions and respond to the media agency involved.
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Members of the Foreign Press Association have expressed dissatisfaction with an Israeli government policy which opposes indiscriminately granting press credentials to Palestinians, and instead subjects them to the same rules as any other foreign workers in Israel.
Since press cards ease travel restrictions between Israel and the territories, and considering the security situation, the GPO found it necessary to use caution in giving credentials to Palestinians. In recent months, the GPO and the IDF have found that several Palestinian "journalists" have been involved in the smuggling of wanted fugitives from Arafat's Ramallah compound.
Apparently, part of Macdonald's objection is born out of a different definition of Israel's security needs; CBC has a policy not to label Palestinians who attack Israeli civilians as "terrorists."
This entire issue stems from the fact that journalists are greatly restricted in their freedom to report on Palestinian activities. A Western journalist can't just walk into Gaza and begin snapping pictures. It is said that 95 percent of the photos and video images from the recent conflict have been provided by Palestinian freelancers, who are the only ones with access to obtain these images. These crews obviously identify emotionally and politically with the Palestinian side, and wouldn't dare film anything that could embarrass Palestinian leaders.
CBC states that the only safe way to cover stories within the territories is with Palestinian escort. This is apparently because the foreign reporters are otherwise threatened by Palestinians. Yet why should Palestinian intimidation obligate Israel to compromise its own security needs?
Seaman explained: "Israel is currently in a state of conflict with the Palestinians, and we should no sooner grant them press credentials than the U.S. government would give press cards to allow Iraqi or Taliban journalists to enter the United States."
As part of Israel's commitment to freedom of the press, the GPO evaluates each Arab journalist on an individual basis. In fact, journalists from Arab satellite TV Al-Jazeera and even Islamic Republic of Iran TV have broadcast from Jerusalem in recent months. Further, Nabil Khatib of MBC (Middle East Broadcasting Corp. based in Dubai UAE) has received GPO accreditation.
It is interesting to note that on the flip side, Israelis are not welcome to work in Palestinian-controlled areas, and in 2001 Palestinian leaders issued a death threat to any Israeli journalist entering PA-controlled areas. Further, the Arab Journalists Association has instructed its thousands of members to boycott Israeli newspapers and TV stations, and offenders are punishable by having their membership revoked or losing their jobs.
Yet the FPA has issued no protests against these discriminatory actions. Why the double standard?