Report: 90% of Palestinian journalists subjected to work-related violations

PNN/ Ramallah/

– 85% believe that the Cyber Crimes Law does not enhance freedom of the press.
– 90% of journalists said that they practice self-censorship out of fear of security agencies.
– 91% said that Palestinian journalists are subjugated to violations related to their work.

With the celebrations of the World Press Freedom Day approaching, on the 3rd of May each year, The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) announced the results of a survey conducted and carried out among journalists and media workers in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip on Media freedoms in Palestine.

In an attempt to reach a comprehensive and realistic assessment of the current status of media freedoms in Palestine. The survey aims to contribute to a better understanding of the environment in which media outlets and journalists operate within as well as the different factors influencing it. The results are hoped to reveal penitential areas of intervention that could bring about improvements and elevate media freedoms in Palestine.

The survey consisted of 30 questions that were addressed to respondents covering four major areas of journalistic work in Palestine and the working environment in which the media operates. These areas are: the legal environment and regulatory framework, violations and violence towards journalists, the degree of independence of the Palestinian press and the extent of external influences, and the media working environment and the level of self-censorship.

The survey was carried out between 15-12-2017 and 15-1-2018 targeting 300 journalists -both male and female- from the Gaza Strip and West Bank including East Jerusalem. They were guided to fill out an online questionnaire MADA had received a total of 182 completed responses from the targeted journalists, around 9.1% of the Palestinian journalists syndicate (i.e. an estimated of 2,000 journalists members of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate) work in West Bank and Gaza Strip), noting that, other 300 journalists their membership is still pending approval, whereas, the same amount are not members in the syndicate, according to the director of the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate, Yousef Maharmeh. The margin of error reached around 7%.

The sample also represents geographically 78% of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and 22% of the Gaza Strip, with 61.5% males and 38.5% females. As for the labor sector, 25.3% of the journalists in the public sector participated, 58.2% were in the private sector, and 16.5% were employed in the private sector.

The percentage of employers who responded to and participated in the survey was 23.6% of the samples, 64.9% were full-time employees and 11.5% were part-time employees.

The Main Findings:[1]
– 76% of surveyed journalists believe that media laws in Palestine do not promote freedom of the press and 73% say that these laws do not guarantee protection for journalists.

– 85% believe that the Cyber Crimes Law does not promote freedom of the press.

– 89% expressed that there are legal procedures in Palestine that actually prevent journalists from accessing information related to public affairs.

– 91% said that Palestinian journalists are subjugated to violations related to their work.

– 83% say there is a lack of transparency and fair means to prosecuting public authorities that violate media freedoms.

– 90% of journalists said that they practice self-censorship out of fear of being interrogated by security agencies in Palestine.

– 89% of journalists said that they practiced self-censorship out of fear of societal pressure or public scrutiny.

– 83% believe that the media in Palestine is not independent; 97% believe that it is influenced by political and partisan biases, while 87% believe that it is influenced by the interests of the private sector.

– 92% say there is mismanagement on the part of media organizations that negatively affects the level of professionalism practiced.

Section One: The Legal Environment and Regulatory Framework

When asked about the extent to which Palestinian media specific laws are able to protect and strengthen freedom of the press, 76.4% of respondents said that media laws do not promote freedom of the press in Palestine, compared to a minority of 23.1% who stated that it in fact does.
On the other hand, the overwhelming majority of respondents do not believe that media laws protect or enhance freedom of the press in Palestine, namely 79.6% in the West Bank and 65% in Gaza.
In this regard, 81.3% of the respondents considered that the general legal environment in Palestine does not promote freedom of the press. This brings to light a widespread dissatisfaction among members of the media (journalists) with the legal environment in its current form in Palestine.
In the WestBank 83.8% expressed their dissatisfaction with the general legal environment, compared to 72.5% in Gaza.

Among all surveyed employers, 85.4% of expressed the same sentiment.

The answers to this question in the survey gave out some of the most significant results. The overwhelming majority of journalists (91.7%) said that media organizations suffer from mismanagement which affects their professionalism. This is compared to a very small minority of 4.9% who say that there is no mismanagement in media organizations that affects its professionalism.
These results are a clear indication of journalists’ awareness and recognition of the importance of proper management in media institutions and its effects on the level of professionalism practiced. It may also be interpreted that journalists perceive mismanagement in their institutions as yet additional obstacle to the fulfillment of media freedoms in Palestine.

What is rather astounding about the results from this survey question is the fact that 90.2% of employers, supposedly the individuals either primarily or partially responsible for managerial tasks, admit to mismanagement in their own institutions. They also agree that this affects the level of professionalism practiced. This goes to show that there is somewhat of a consensus among journalists regarding the need to improve management of media bodies in order to elevate the level of professionalism practiced.

The results of the survey showed that 73.1% of the journalists believe that media laws enforce in Palestine do not guarantee protection to journalists, while 24.7% said they did.
In view of the fact that 81.3% of the respondents also said that the legal environment in Palestine does not promote freedom of the press, indicates strongly that the legal system in Palestine needs to be reviewed and that it mayin fact be considered one of the main obstacles to the hindrance of media freedoms.

About the cyber-crimes decree

The recently adopted and controversial cyber-crimes decree, adopted and published in the Palestinian Gazette on 09th July 2017, raised concerns and was met with opposition from a wide spectrum of journalists and human rights organizations who identified, within its clauses, a breach of freedom of expression and opinion. It has also been widely recognized to as a tool to oppress media freedoms and freedom of the press in Palestine, which was resulted in the formation of a committee demanding the immediate freeze and amendment of the decree.

In this regard, 84.6% of those polled believe that the Cyber- Crimes Law does not promote media freedoms in Palestine, compared with a minority of only 12.6% who believe that this law enhances media freedoms.[2]

It is undeniable that the obstruction to access information pertaining to public affairs directly affects human rights and the interests of the citizens of a particular country. On the contrary, allowing citizen to access public information not only promotes transparency but it also a pillar of democracy and a tool that ensures the involvement of citizens in political and social affairs.

When asked about this, an overwhelming majority of 88.5% of respondents said that there are legal procedures that prevent the Palestinian media from accessing information related to public affairs, compared to only 8.6% who denied the existence of such legal procedures.

The percentage of those who believe that such procedures exist among Gazan journalists reached 95% and 86.6% among those in the West Bank.

The Second Section: Assaults and violations against journalists

In regards to, journalists subjected to violations by Palestinian security services in connectionto their journalistic work.

90.7% of the sample said that journalists were subjected to violations by the Palestinian security services in connection to their journalistic work, compared to a minority of 7.1 % who said that journalists are not subjected to violations in the same context.

The percentage of those who think such violations exist in the Gaza Strip rises to 95% and 89.4% in the West Bank.

In addition, 95.2% of employers stated that journalists are subjected to violations in connectionto their journalistic work, which shows a near consensus among them on the issues. This reveals the general situation and the circumstances under which the media and journalists operate within both the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In contrast, 45.6% of the respondents said that media organizations do not protect and/or defend journalists, compared to a slightly higher percentage of 51.7% of the surveyed sample who said that media organizations protect and defend their journalists.

What supports these results is the fact that 41.5% of employers themselves acknowledged that media organizations do not protect journalists and do not defend them if they were exposed to violations.
82.5% of the respondents said that the Palestinian entities that violate media freedoms are not prosecuted in a transparent and fair manner, compared to a very small minority of 10.9% who said that those who violate media freedoms are being prosecuted transparently and fairly.

Failure to prosecute violators of media freedoms is not only a breachto Human Rights and prevents the attainment of justice but is also an indirect authorization to continue committing such violations.
As for the results of the three questions that were addressed to the research sample regarding the publication of violations by human rights organizations, institutions of the Palestinian Authority and media institutions, the human rights organizations ranked first with 76.9%, followed by media institutions with 64.3%, then and with huge margin, only 9.3% said that PA institutions publish violations of journalists impartially and transparently.
The third section: Media independence and how distanced it is from being influenced.

An overwhelming majority of respondents (83%) stated that Palestinian media is not independent, compared to 17% who believe it is independent (15.4% out of the 17% said it was “somewhat independent”) and only 1.6% asserting it’s independent.

The percentage of those who believe that Palestinian media is not independent reached 90% in the Gaza Strip compared to 81% in the West Bank.

These findings seem logical when linked to the results of different survey questions addressing issues such as the media’s level of professionalism, the publication of violations to journalists, the difficulty in accessing and disseminating information on public affairs, the weak protection of journalists, the wide range of violations they face, and legal obstacles and other issues that directly or indirectly to undermining the media’s independence in Palestine.

In a related context, the results showed that 96.7% of respondents believe that the Palestinian media is influenced by certain political partisan agendas.

This percentage was very close among respondents from both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with 96.5% and 96.5% respectively saying that the Palestinian press was influenced by specific partisan agendas, while 100% of employers and managers acknowledged that the Palestinian media is in fact influenced by specific political and partisan affiliations and associated agendas.

The results showed that an overwhelming majority of 87.4% believe that the Palestinian media is also affected by the agendas of the private sector, which was also expressed by 85.4% of surveyed employers, compared to 10.4% of the poll sample denying this influence.

Furthermore, 88.5% of respondents agreed that published materials and publication policies in general controlled or influenced by interest relationships between media institution administrators and businesses. Only 4.4% of respondents dismissed this notion and said that publication policies are not subjected to interest relationship. Meanwhile, 7.1% said they do not know.

It is noticeable that 85.4% of the employers themselves (i.e. media policy and decision makers) believe that the publication agenda is subjected to certain benefit relationships thatinvolves owners or upper management levels of media institutions. This reveals the existence of a real and significant, which inevitably affects the level of professionalism and objectivity of the media and freedom of the press in general.

In connection with the preceding findings, the absence of published editorial policies by media outlets in Palestine further exacerbates the influence of external factors on publication policies, agendas and freedom of the press in general.

In this regard, a majority of 68.1% of all respondents denied that media outlets disclose their editorial policies to the general public, whereas 25.8% reported the opposite.

In the survey, 58.5% of employers (ie, owners or decision-makers) reported that editorial policies in Palestinian media outlets are not publicly disclosed, and only 34.1% of employers said that editorial policies were disclosed to the public.

Section Four: the media working environment, self-censorship and objectivity

The vast majority (93.4%) of the surveyed journalists agreed that professionalism actually incentivizes media freedoms and 87.8% of employers agreed with is statement. This is compared to mere 5% of respondents who did not agree and 2.8% said they do not know.
A large majority of the respondents agreed that the independence of the decision making within media institutions enhances freedom of the press, with 91.7% concurring, compared to only 5.5% who do not agree.

Additionally, the overwhelming majority of employers (92.7%) also supported this statement.
While 58.2% said that journalists are committed to the ethics of professional work, 40.1% of respondents said that journalists do not adhere to such ethics.

The 40.1% who said that journalists do not abide by the ethics of professional work is a rather high and disturbing percentage worth observing.

When asked about the extent to which media outlets are committed to these work ethics, the respondents were split into nearly two equal halves between agreement and dis agreement on this statement.

49.4% said that Palestinian media organizations are committed to professional work ethics. The majority of those (45.6% out of 49.4%) answered “somewhat agree” and only 3.8% were very affirmative in their response and chose “strongly agree”.

In contrast, 47.2% of the sample considered that media organizations are not committed to these ethics, which reveals an imbalance regarding the extent of commitment of media professionals and media organizations to work ethics.

In this poll, three questions addressed issues related to self-censorship, the extent to which it is practiced, the major reasons behind it, as well as the limitations felt by journalists to be able to discuss political topics freely.
An overwhelming majority of the respondents (88.5%) said that journalists practice self-censored out of fear of societal criticism or pressure – especially in topics such as religion, customs and traditions …”, while only 7.7% felt that journalists do not practice self-censored for these reasons.

When journalists were asked whether they practiced self-censorship out of fear of being pursued or targeted by security agencies (otherwise known as “security accountability”), 90.1% of respondents agreed. The proportion of those who supported this statement reached 95% in Gaza Strip and 88.7% in the West Bank. On the other hand, only 8.8% denied that journalists practiced self-censorship due to factor.
While the results provided by poll show that both societal pressures and fear of being targeted by security agencies play a role in journalists practicing self-censorship, the one pertaining to security agencies is slightly higher and appears to be a major issue in Palestine.

Finally, similar to reasons above, 91.2% of respondents reported that journalists practice self-censorship when discussing political issues, while only 8.1% disagreed.