Friday, May 17, 2013

The Newseum’s Decision to Drop Palestinian Journalists from Memorial Prompts Varied Responses

The Journalists Memorial, located in the Newseum in Washington, D.C., pays tribute to reporters, photographers and broadcasters who have died reporting the news.
(Photo Credit: Chicago Sun-Times / Newseum)

Earlier this week, Washington D.C.'s Newseum buckled to pressure applied by Israel lobby groups and omitted the names of two Palestinian news cameramen, Hussam Salama and Mahmoud al-Kumi, who were targeted last November in an Israeli air strike on Gaza the Strip, from its memorial for journalists killed in the line of duty. I wrote extensively on the hypocrisy of this decision here.

In his keynote address at the Newseum's annual rededication ceremony on Monday, NBC reporter Richard Engel supported the Newseum's decision, claiming that Salama and al-Kumi were not "strictly journalists, but political activists who worked in the media," adding, "Just because you carry a camera and a notebook doesn't make you a journalist."

Such a comment is essentially the defensive photo-negative of what Human Rights Watch Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson said in a December 2102 report on "Unlawful Israeli Attacks on Palestinian Media."

"Just because Israel says a journalist was a fighter or a TV station was a command center does not make it so," she warned.

During his remarks, Engel also said, "Journalists shouldn't have causes. They should have principles and beliefs." He went on, however, to praise Syrian reporters "who worked for media outlets that were actively trying to topple Bashar al-Assad’s regime" and who were included, without controversy, in the museum's tribute. For Engel, the Syrian journalists (in contrast to their Palestinians counterparts who lived under Israeli occupation and were murdered by U.S.-subsidized missiles) "certainly died trying to do something noble. They were speaking out against oppression. They died trying to quench a thirst for freedom." Engel hardly seemed aware of the hypocrisy of his statements.

The Newseum has yet to answer a number of salient questions posed by The Electronic Intifada‘s Ali Abunimah about its last minute decision to excise Salama and al-Kumi from its memorial. Meanwhile, the U.S.-based Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association (AMEJA) has issued the following statement about the Newseum's actions.

Statement of the Arab and Middle East Journalists Association in Reference to Newseum Scandal

The Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association (AMEJA) condemns in the strongest possible terms, the decision of the Newseum to exclude Palestinian journalists Mahmoud al-Kumi and Hussam Salama from its memorial of journalists killed in the line of duty.

Israeli missiles fired at a car clearly marked "TV" during Israel's attack on Gaza in November, 2012, killing Messieurs Al-Kumi and Salama as they returned from covering a story for TV station Al-Aqsa at Al-Shifaa Hospital. The Newseum justifies its exclusion of the two journalists because of claims that they worked for news network run by Hamas, the governing party in Gaza. The Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers all recognize that both Mr. Al-Kumi and Mr. Salama were legitimate journalists, and therefore entitled to all protections afforded non-combatants in times of armed conflict. Human Rights Watch, which investigated the affiliations of the two men, has determined that neither was a member of any political party, nor was either a combatant.

AMEJA wholeheartedly supports the statements of peer groups The Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, and is appreciative of the investigations of Human Rights Watch. However, AMEJA firmly holds that a journalist's political affiliations, whatever they might be, are irrelevant to the question of whether he or she is a journalist. Applying a political litmus test to determine whether one is a journalist is a slippery slope that serves no useful purpose in the service of an informed public.

If the Newseum truly wishes to honor the principle of press freedom, it must reverse its decision of exclusion and restore Messrs. al-Kumi and Salama from its memorial of journalists who perished while working to inform the public of vital matters of the day.


Originally posted at Muftah.


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