Arab satellite broadcaster Al Arabiya has announced that it is no longer referring to Palestinian suicide bombers as “martyrs.” Instead of that emotionally charged -- and highly misleading -- term, the Dubai-based satellite television network will use the phrase “the dead.” This move toward more objective news reporting has been welcomed by those who value accurate journalism. But the change is being criticized by some who have preferred the inflammatory coverage of the Middle East by most Arab satellite television channels.
Yussef al-Qazzaz is a senior official with the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation. “Most of the correspondents of the Arab TV and radio stations need to be educated politically and culturally about the internal [Palestinian] situation,” said Mr. al-Qazzaz. “We don’t understand why some Arab satellite stations are no longer using the term ‘martyrs.’” Mr. al-Qazzaz even called on the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate to join with the Palestinian Ministry of Information in telling journalists “which phrases are used in our political life.”
Even worse, journalists who are trying to report honestly are facing physical threats. In Gaza, a group of men pulled al-Arabiya correspondent Seif al-Din Shahin from his car and beat him with rifle butts. The attack came after Mr. Shahin reported that a celebration by the Palestinian faction Fatah cost some three-million dollars and resulted in several injuries to bystanders from guns being fired into the air.
In the wake of the attack on Mr. Shahin, scores of journalists and other Palestinians demonstrated in support of the right of journalists to do their jobs without fear. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights called the attack an assault on “freedom of the press, of opinion, [and] of expression.” The group called on the Palestinian Authority “to conduct a full and fair investigation. . .and bring those found responsible to justice.”
That, clearly, is essential. But it is only part of what needs to be done in Palestinian areas and throughout the Middle East. Leaders in this troubled region should give honest, truthful news reporting their full support. These values could contribute greatly to the achievement of peace and democracy.