Press group calls for Israeli accountability in media deaths

Journalists surround the body of Shireen Abu Akleh, a colleague with Al Jazeera, in the West Bank town of Jenin. (AP)
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Updated 10 May 2023
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Press group calls for Israeli accountability in media deaths

  • The CPJ says the Israeli military has systematically evaded accountability in the deaths of 20 journalists over the past two decade

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military has systematically evaded accountability in the deaths of 20 journalists over the past two decades, launching slow and opaque investigations that have never resulted in prosecution or punishment, an international press-freedom group said in a report Tuesday.
The Committee to Protect Journalists issued its report ahead of the one-year anniversary of the death of Shireen Abu Akleh — a Palestinian-American journalist with the Al Jazeera satellite channel who was killed while covering an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank.
The army has said Abu Akleh was likely killed by Israeli fire, but said the shooting was accidental and not announced any disciplinary action.
“The killing of Shireen Abu Akleh and the failure of the army’s investigative process to hold anyone responsible is not a one-off event,” said Robert Mahoney, CPJ’s director of special projects and one of the report’s editors. “It is part of a pattern of response that seems designed to evade responsibility.”
The New York-based CPJ documented the cases of 20 journalists killed by Israeli military fire over the last 22 years. Eighteen of the dead were Palestinians, while the other two were European foreign correspondents. At least 13, including Abu Akleh, were clearly identified as journalists or traveling in vehicles marked with press insignia, it said.
“No one has ever been charged or held responsible for these deaths,” the report said. “The impunity in these cases has severely undermined the freedom of the press, leaving the rights of journalists in precarity.”
The report found a “routine sequence” in the deaths of journalists. Israeli officials typically discount evidence or witness claims while cases are still under investigation, and journalists are accused of terrorism without providing any evidence. Probes can drag on for months or years and clouded in secrecy before they are closed, and families of the dead have little legal recourse.
“Israel’s procedure for examining military killings of civilians such as journalists is a black box,” it said. “There is no policy document describing the process in detail and the results of any probe are confidential.”
It found that the army tends to launch more robust investigations in cases such as Abu Akleh’s, when the journalist holds a foreign passport, but even those do not result in prosecution.
It called for criminal investigations into three cases: Yasser Murtaja, a well-known Palestinian journalist killed while covering protests along the frontier with Israel in 2018; Ahmed Abu Hussein, another journalist killed covering Gaza protests in 2018; and Abu Akleh.
Israeli officials claimed without giving evidence that Murtaja was a militant.
In the case of Abu Akleh, the army said there was a “very high probability” that she was shot by an Israeli soldier who had misidentified her as a militant. But it held out the possibility that she had been shot by a Palestinian militant, though it gave no evidence to support that claim.
In a statement, the Israeli military said it “regrets any harm to civilians during operational activity and considers the protection of the freedom of the press and the professional work of journalists to be of great importance.”
It said it operates in a “complex security reality” and does not intentionally target noncombatants, using live fire only as a last resort. It said criminal investigations are typically opened in cases of civilian deaths, “unless the incident occurred in an active combat situation or if there is no suspicion of a crime having been committed by IDF soldiers.”
Abu Akleh, who was 51, was shot while covering an Israeli raid in the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank on May 11, 2022. The area is known to be a stronghold of Palestinian militants.
The Israeli military frequently operates in the camp and said its soldiers had been involved in intense gunbattles with militants that morning. But it has provided no evidence that Palestinian gunmen were in the vicinity of Abu Akleh.
A number of independent investigations, including one by The Associated Press, concluded that Abu Akleh was almost certainly killed by Israeli fire and found no evidence of militant activity in the area. Witness accounts and amateur videos have also shown the area to be quiet before she was shot.
The United States concluded that an Israeli soldier likely killed her by mistake, but it did not explain how it reached that conclusion. A US-led analysis of the bullet last July was inconclusive as investigators said the bullet had been badly damaged.
The Palestinian Authority, Al Jazeera and her family have accused the army of intentionally killing Abu Akleh, a veteran journalist well known across the Arab world for documenting the harsh realities of life under more than half a century of Israeli military rule.
The report said the shooting has had a chilling effect on press freedom.
“Many reporters covering similar raids and tensions — which have risen markedly since Shireen’s killing — are afraid of being shot,” said Guillaume Lavallee, chairman of the Foreign Press Association at the time of the shooting, told CPJ. He said the feeling of vulnerability is especially strong among Palestinian colleagues.
The FPA represents dozens of international media organizations operating in Israel and the Palestinian territories, including The Associated Press.
In its report, the CPJ called on the Israeli military to reform its rules of engagement to prevent the targeting of journalists, to guarantee swift, independent and transparent investigations and to make their findings public.
It also called on the US to issue an update on the status of a reported FBI investigation into Abu Akleh’s killing and to put pressure on Israel to reform its rules of engagement.


Media watchdogs urge independent probe into Israeli attack that injured Gaza journalists

Updated 58 min 28 sec ago
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Media watchdogs urge independent probe into Israeli attack that injured Gaza journalists

  • ‘Assaults on hospitals have further restricted the ability of the press to work safely,’ says NGO official

LONDON: Media watchdogs have called for an independent investigation into an Israeli attack on Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Gaza that injured eight journalists.

The strike on March 31 also killed four people and injured nine others.

“Israel’s March 31 attack on a hospital compound where journalists were sheltering and working must be independently investigated,” said Committee to Protect Journalists Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna in New York City.

With media offices facing widespread destruction in Gaza, journalists in the enclave have increasingly sought refuge in hospitals.

However, attacks on Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital and the March 18 assault on Al-Shifa Hospital, where journalists were arrested and faced violence, have rendered even hospitals unsafe for press personnel.

“Assaults on hospitals have further restricted the ability of the press to work safely,” added de la Serna.

Reports show that on March 31, an Israeli drone strike hit a tent encampment outside Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir Al-Balah, central Gaza, near a tent provided by the Turkish Anadolu news agency, where journalists had sought refuge.

The attack targeted a command center belonging to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, resulting in the deaths of four militants and injuries to 17 other people, including eight journalists, according to multiple media outlets and the Palestinian press freedom group MADA.

Items including cameras, laptops and mobile phones belonging to journalists were also destroyed in the strike.

The Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate in central Gaza has warned of deteriorating conditions for journalists in the enclave, leading many to seek refuge and access to electricity in hospitals in order to file stories.

But recent attacks have eroded confidence in the safety of hospitals across Gaza.

During the Israeli operation in Al-Shifa Hospital on March 18, Al Jazeera Arabic reporter Ismail Al-Ghoul was detained for almost 12 hours alongside several other journalists.

Witnesses reported that soldiers assaulted the group of journalists, destroyed their tent, and damaged equipment and press vehicles.

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Mali’s junta bans the media from reporting on political activities in a deepening crackdown

Updated 12 April 2024
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Mali’s junta bans the media from reporting on political activities in a deepening crackdown

  • Maison de le Press, an umbrella organization of journalists in Mali, said it rejects the order and called on media to continue with their work
  • Col. Assimi Goita, who took charge after a second coup in 2021, has failed in his promised to return the country to democracy in early 2024

BAMAKO, Mali: In a deepening crackdown, Mali’s ruling junta on Thursday banned the media from reporting on activities of political parties and associations, a day after suspending all political activities in the country until further notice.

The order, issued by Mali’s high authority for communication, was distributed on social media. The notice said it applied to all forms of the media, including television, radio, online and print newspapers.
Mali has experienced two coups since 2020, leading a wave of political instability that has swept across West and Central Africa in recent years. Along with its political troubles, the country is also in the grip of a worsening insurgency by militants linked to Al-Qaeda and the Daesh group.
The scope of the ban — or how it would be applied in practice — was not immediately clear. It was also not known if journalists would still be allowed to report on issues such as the economy, which are closely tied to politics and who would monitor their work.
The umbrella organization that represents journalists in Mali responded with an unusually stern rebuttal.
The group, known as Maison de le Press, or Press House, said it rejects the order and called on journalists to continue to report on politics in Mali. It also urged them to “stand tall, remain unified and to mobilize to defend the right of citizens to have access to information.”
Mali’s national commission for human rights also expressed regret and profound concern over the decision in a statement published late Thursday. It warned the junta the decision could prove harmful.
“Instead of calming the social climate, these restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms could potentially stir up trouble and tension, which the country does not need,” it said.
The clampdown on the media followed a similar action on Wednesday, when the junta ordered the suspension of all activities by political parties until further notice, citing a a need to preserve public order. The news was broadcast on state television as the population was celebrating Eid Al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan during which observant Muslims fast from dawn till dusk.
Analysts said the move was likely a backlash against political figures, civil society and students who have expressed frustration with the junta’s failure to return the country to democratic rule as promised.
“Recent weeks saw mounting pressure by political parties and figures,” Rida Lyammouri of the Policy Center for the New South, a Morocco-based think tank, told The Associated Press. “For the first time, the public and politicians have publicly criticized junta leaders and accused them of a lack of seriousness.”
Col. Assimi Goita, who took charge after a second coup in 2021, promised to return the country to democracy in early 2024. But in September, the junta canceled elections scheduled for February 2024 indefinitely, citing the need for further technical preparations.
The junta has vowed to end the insurgency that emerged in 2012 after deposing the elected government. It cut military ties with France amid growing frustration with the lack of progress after a decade of assistance, and turned to Russian contractors, mercenaries from the Wagner group, for security support instead. But analysts say the violence has only grown worse.
The United States said it was “deeply concerned” by the ban on political activities. “Freedom of expression and freedom of association are critical to an open society,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters in Washington.


Palestinian flag emoji sparks Apple controversy

Updated 12 April 2024
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Palestinian flag emoji sparks Apple controversy

  • The latest iPhone software updates automatically suggest the Palestinian flag when users type "Jerusalem" in Messages
  • Jerusalem’s status remains highly contentious, with both Israel and Palestine claiming it as their capital

LONDON: The inclusion of a Palestinian flag emoji when users type “Jerusalem” has sparked controversy for Apple, with accusations of antisemitism leveled against the American tech giant.

The issue emerged after a recent software update automatically suggested the Palestinian flag emoji, drawing criticism from British TV presenter Rachel Riley, an outspoken supporter of Israel.

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Riley took to social media to highlight the anomaly, noting that other capital cities typically do not trigger flag suggestions.

She wrote on X: “Dear @‌Apple @applesupport @tim_cook I’ve just upgraded my software to version iOS 17.4.1, and now, when I type the capital of Israel, Jerusalem, I’m offered the Palestinian flag emoji.

“This didn’t occur on my phone immediately before this update.

“Below is a (non-exhaustive) list of capital cities that do not offer their nation’s flags, let alone the wrong one.”

Riley accused the Cupertino company of “double standards,” which she views as a “form of antisemitism” when referring to Israel.

One social media expert suggested that the issue could have resulted from “human intervention.”

“There is nothing inherently wrong with associating Jerusalem with Palestinian belief, but Apple's choice of default settings warrants justification, especially considering the potential discriminatory implications of this decision,” said Tom Divon, a researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in an interview with The Telegraph.

The iPhone maker said the change made to the keyboard was unintentional and followed a recent software update.

A spokesperson for Apple explained that the Palestinian flag was the result of a “bug” within predictive emoji, adding that it would be fixed in the new iOS software update.

Jerusalem’s status remains highly contentious, with both Israel and Palestine claiming it as their capital.

Map of the Old City of Jerusalem. (AFP/File)

The city is divided, with Israel controlling the western part and the eastern part viewed as Palestinian territory by the UN, although Israel has repeatedly been accused of exerting extensive power and using violence over the area in an attempt to gain control.

Former US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017 further fueled tensions, drawing condemnation from the international community and Palestinian leaders, who described the move as “deplorable and unacceptable measures (that) deliberately undermine all peace efforts.”

 


Protesters in Eurovision host city call for boycott of Israel

Updated 11 April 2024
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Protesters in Eurovision host city call for boycott of Israel

  • Eurovision organizers European Broadcasting Union has so far resisted calls for Israel to be excluded from Eurovision over Gaza war
  • EBU said Eurovision is not a contest between governments and that Israeli broadcaster KAN met all competition rules

MALMO: Protesters waving Palestinian flags and banners on Wednesday called for a boycott of Israel at the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest in the Swedish city of Malmo that will host the event next month.
The European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which organizes Eurovision, bills the song contest as a non-political event.
But the global political backdrop often weighs on the contest, which this year takes place amid protests and boycotts over the devastating Israeli military campaign in Gaza, triggered by Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, affecting cultural events across Europe.
“I think there is no way that Israel should be able to participate in Eurovision and it’s complete double standards that they let them participate when they kicked Russia out,” said Malmo resident Mats Rehle, 43, who works in a bookshop.
Protesters outside Malmo city held a banner calling for the boycott of Israel above the Eurovision logo, while another banner featured red stains to look like blood and a pair of scissors cutting the chord to a microphone displaying an Israeli flag.
The EBU in 2022 banned Russia from Eurovision after several European public broadcasters called for the country to be expelled following its invasion of Ukraine.
The union has said it suspended the Russian broadcasters over “persistent breaches of membership obligations and the violation of public service values.”
The organizers’ decision to include Israeli broadcaster KAN has sparked protests from artists and ministers, but the EBU said in January that Eurovision was not a contest between governments and that KAN met all competition rules.
The union has so far resisted calls for Israel to be excluded from Eurovision, and on Wednesday urged people to refrain from online abuse directed at some participating artists.
“We have all been affected by the images, stories, and the unquestionable pain suffered by those in Israel and in Gaza,” the EBU said in a statement.
“However... we wish to address the concerns and discussions surrounding this situation, especially the targeted social media campaigns against some of our participating artists,” it added.

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Meta to blur Instagram messages containing nudity in latest move for teen safety

Updated 11 April 2024
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Meta to blur Instagram messages containing nudity in latest move for teen safety

  • The feature will use on-device machine learning to analyze image sent as direct message on Instagram
  • The company also mentioned that they are currently developing new tools to identify accounts engaged in sextortion

LONDON: Instagram will test features that blur messages containing nudity to safeguard teens and prevent potential scammers from reaching them, its parent Meta said on Thursday as it tries to allay concerns over harmful content on its apps.
The tech giant is under mounting pressure in the United States and Europe over allegations that its apps were addictive and have fueled mental health issues among young people.
Meta said the protection feature for Instagram’s direct messages would use on-device machine learning to analyze whether an image sent through the service contains nudity.
The feature will be turned on by default for users under 18 and Meta will notify adults to encourage them to turn it on.
“Because the images are analyzed on the device itself, nudity protection will also work in end-to-end encrypted chats, where Meta won’t have access to these images – unless someone chooses to report them to us,” the company said.
Unlike Meta’s Messenger and WhatsApp apps, direct messages on Instagram are not encrypted but the company has said it plans to roll out encryption for the service.
Meta also said that it was developing technology to help identify accounts that might be potentially engaging in sextortion scams and that it was testing new pop-up messages for users who might have interacted with such accounts.
In January, the social media giant had said it would hide more content from teens on Facebook and Instagram, adding this would make it more difficult for them to come across sensitive content such as suicide, self-harm and eating disorders.
Attorneys general of 33 US states, including California and New York, sued the company in October, saying it repeatedly misled the public about the dangers of its platforms.
In Europe, the European Commission has sought information on how Meta protects children from illegal and harmful content. (Reporting by Granth Vanaik in Bengaluru; Editing by Aditya Soni and Alan Barona)