Israel's destruction of Palestinian broadcasting facilities in the West Bank over the weekend was a "dangerous and vindictive act of cultural vandalism" that puts media staff everywhere at risk said the International Federation of Journalists today. The IFJ, which is the world's largest journalist group, says Israel's destruction of Palestine Broadcasting offices and equipment continues an unacceptable trend of targeting of media in recent conflicts.
"Three years ago it was virtually unheard of for media to be military targets," said Aidan White, General Secretary of the IFJ, "now it is becoming routine for one side or another to shout "propaganda" and to strike at media that broadcast a message they don't like."
Speaking from Tehran, at a workshop for Arab world and Asian press freedom activists supported by the United Nations cultural agency UNESCO, White said that NATO's 1999 bombing of the RTS broadcasting station in Belgrade, in which 16 media staff died, had set a precedent now being followed in other regional conflicts.
Recent targeting of media in the Middle East, in the conflict between India and Pakistan, and the unexplained destruction of the Kabul office of Arabic broadcaster Al-Jazeera in the Afghanistan bombing campaign, shows that media, particularly broadcasters, are increasingly regarded as legitimate targets by military strategists says the IFJ. On 13 December 2001, the Israeli army demolished the transmitter and generators of the Palestinian TV and Radio, in Ramallah, stopping broadcasts for several hours.
The IFJ says the Israeli action is also a repudiation of international support, including from European Union countries and UNESCO, that helped set up the Palestinian Broadcasting system.
"This is a dangerous and vindictive act of cultural vandalism," said White, "and it shows wanton disregard for the time, money and human capital invested by donor organisations in helping to create a viable structure for Palestinian broadcasting."
The IFJ says Israeli claims that Palestinian broadcasting was promoting violence were untested by the international community. "Being partisan is not a crime against press freedom," said White, "Palestinians have a fundamental right to be heard. This is the latest in a series of actions to silence opposition voices that will only increase fear and uncertainty in the region."
The IFJ has protested, along with international media organisations, over Israel's recent decision to discriminate against Palestinian journalists and media staff by denying them access to the Israeli government press card. "Palestinian journalists are stranded and denied freedom of movement and now even the facilities they need to work in their own territory are being destroyed," said White.
The IFJ is calling for action to prevent further targeting of media in conflict. "We need to find ways of investigating and dealing with complaints against media that will discourage military strikes by trigger-happy generals and politicans," said White, "If not, there will be more attacks with ever-more tragic consequences for people who work in media."