IFJ Letter to Ariel Sharon, Prime Minister of Israel

From the www.monabaker.com archive (legacy material)

Aidan White | IFJ | 29 May 2003

Ariel Sharon
Prime Minister
Government of Israel
Dear Mr Sharon,
On behalf of the International Federation of Journalists, the world’s largest organisation of journalists’ groups, I express the sincere hope that the efforts being made to end the violence that has destroyed the lives of so many Israelis and Palestinians over the years will succeed in creating conditions for a lasting solution to the conflict in the region.
The IFJ represents journalists on both sides of the conflict and we have witnessed the tragic consequences of the violence, both in personal terms and also in its impact on press freedom, which is essential to peace, security and the future of democratic pluralism in the region.
Today I am writing to you and to Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to ask that you both give urgent consideration to the question of the rights and security of journalists in the forthcoming dialogue. It is time, we believe, to set journalists free and to build democracy through dialogue, tolerance and press freedom.
We are convinced that the new peace talks will falter unless urgent and credible action is taken to build a new democratic process that supports press freedom and independent journalism.
In particular, we ask you to make a joint commitment to respect the safety and security of journalists and media staff working in the region.
You may know that recently media organisations and journalists’ groups from around the world have launched the International News Safety Institute to campaign for safety in media. Recent tragedies in both Iraq and Palestine give this Institute a new sense of urgency.
We hope that both Israeli and Palestinian leaders will indicate their support for making the region safe for all, including media staff who, as you well know, act as the eyes, ears and conscience of millions around the world seeking to understand and be properly informed about events in the region.
We ask you also to take immediate steps to restore professional recognition to all Palestinian journalists and to consider the establishment of joint accreditation procedures for Palestinian journalists and others working in Israel and the Palestinian areas.
We believe that a joint approach to media – regulatory structures, media policy, recognition and accreditation rights, education and development strategies – will strengthen institution building and reinforce the commitment to democracy within the region. There is, above all, a great need to create confidence among journalists that they can move freely, meet and discuss issues of shared concern and work together to build editorial and professional independence within the media of Israel and Palestine.
As a first step, the recognition of Palestinian journalists and their professional rights will build confidence that professional independence in media is a shared objective of the peace process. The plight of Palestinian journalists in particular can be ignored no longer.
In this regard we also call for the removal of all restrictions on the free movement of media staff, particular as it affects currently journalists seeking to work in the Gaza Strip. We note the declaration that visiting foreigners are being asked to sign by the Israeli authorities and we seriously doubt that this will have the desired effect of dissuading people from moving around insecure areas.
Our strong belief is that the authorities should promote greater understanding of the need for safety and an understanding of risks that people face, rather than seeking to absolve themselves of responsibilities, which, in any event, cannot be signed away under international law.
We are grateful to the Israeli Press Office for distributing information to foreign and local correspondents on the IFJ Code of Practice for the Safe Conduct of Journalism and we are pleased that a limited amount of training on risk awareness has been carried out in the Palestinian territories. However, this is only a fraction of what needs to be done to improve personal and industry-wide levels of awareness. We hope that the peace talks will open the way to a new and more urgent programme aimed at reducing risks for journalists and media staff.
Finally, we regret that tragic incidents have occurred that raise serious questions about the responsibility of the authorities to provide protection for civilians and media staff in particular. For this reason we believe that it swill be necessary to establish an acceptable and independent process for investigation of all incidents of violence in which the victims are journalists or media staff. This is a serious challenge, but it gets to the heart of the matter – to restore public confidence in the peace process requires openness and transparency at all levels.
New peace talks give an opportunity for both sides to work together to end all violence against media and killing of journalists. We need a fresh start and a new commitment to build media professionalism and respect for independent journalism. We ask you to do what you can to use this new dialogue to create a new landscape for media built upon a shared vision of democracy, tolerance and professionalism.
With Kind Regards
General Secretary