Gaza crisis causes new problems for broadcasters

The intense fighting between rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah on the streets of Gaza is being covered mainly by agency journalists, as most news organisations in the West consider the risks too great for their journalists to report first hand.

The BBC, ITN, Sky News and CNN have Middle East correspondents who are based in Jerusalem and Ramallah. The Arab network Al-Jazeera has a correspondent who has been reporting live from Gaza during recent brutal fighting between the armed factions. CNN has a permanent bureau in Jerusalem, with correspondents Ben Wedeman and Attika Schubert covering the West Bank and Gaza.

The kidnap of BBC Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston three months ago has heightened concerns about the safety of journalists reporting in the region. But there are also concerns among news organisations about the extent to which they are able to reflect recent events.

ITV News journalists have not been inside Gaza since the kidnap of Johnston in March. ITV News Middle East correspondent Julian Manyon and cameraman Rob Bowles, who are based in Jerusalem, report from the border and the West Bank, but rely on footage from agencies and local staff for their reports.

ITV News editor-in-chief David Mannion said he will not allow them back into Gaza until he is confident that the threat of kidnap has been removed. Mannion told Press Gazette that it is not the quantity, but quality of the footage coming from the region that concerns him.

He said: ‘We want to be there to find out, for example, what happened to those people from Fatah who were taken out of that building. Were they shot? We want to talk to families who are trying to live there; we want to talk to people who aren’t in fear of what Hamas are doing and those that are. We can’t do our journalism; there’s pictures coming out, but we can’t do the journalism in the way we’d like to do it. We do our best and we have contacts inside there, but it’s no substitute for being there yourself.”

Sky News has sent a senior correspondent, Colin Brazier, to Israel to join its Middle East correspondent Dominic Waghorn, who is based in Ramallah. Sky News has a partnership with a local TV facilities house, which supplies video material, interviews, advice and expertise at such times when none of its journalists are in Gaza.

Adrian Wells, head of foreign news for Sky News, told Press Gazette that despite this it is proving difficult to get the full picture.

‘A lot of the people we’d normally talk to for live interviews are not prepared to be on the streets and go to TV studios because of the risks of being out and about. It’s become very difficult and we’re all very interested to find out what life’s’ really like. I think the humanitarian angle will become a key one over the next few days.”

Wells said the situation may become more stable should Hamas gain full control. Only once the borders reopen will the decision be made on whether any journalists should be sent to Gaza.

‘Our natural instinct is to go somewhere and find out what’s going on, but some of the issues we now have with reporting on Gaza are similar to the problems we have in reporting Iraq,’he said.

‘There’s no embed system in Gaza so we don’t even have that imperfect way of covering a story. Even that’s not open to us, so we’re reliant on our local journalist colleagues to do the work for us.”

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