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May 25, 2016 4:03 pm

Watchdog: Fiercely Anti-Israel Head of Palestinian Syndicate Reports on Conflict for Major News Outlet Boasting ‘Rigorous Neutrality’

avatar by Ruthie Blum

Nasser Abu Baker, wearing a Palestinian Authority military uniform. Photo: Facebook, Jan. 31, 2016.

Nasser Abu Baker, wearing a Palestinian Authority military uniform. Photo: Facebook, Jan. 31, 2016.

A leading media watchdog organization issued a report on Tuesday strongly criticizing French news outlet Agence France Presse (AFP) for betraying its self-described “rigorous neutrality,” by employing a reporter who was appointed in January to chair the anti-Israel Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate (PJS).

According to the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), Nasser Abu Baker – who previously held the title of deputy chairman at PJS — has been covering Israeli-Palestinian affairs for AFP for more than a decade and continues to do so. This, said CAMERA, is in spite of the fact that PJS is a “leading force for the boycott of Israeli journalists and media.”

To illustrate, CAMERA quoted the following statement made by Abu Baker when he was deputy chairman of the syndicate:

I call upon all male and female colleagues/journalists to boycott any Palestinian official, regardless of how senior he/she is, who conducts an interview with Israeli journalists and Israeli media…this poisonous media whose only goal is to broadcast dissent and incite against our people. Their media, which is directed by their government, is one of the tools of the occupation. Therefore, the time has come for a comprehensive boycott of their media. The Syndicate will have a clear position on this and I plead with all the journalists to abide. We will publish the name of any official who gives an interview to their media from this moment.

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This was in keeping with a report released by Israel-based research organization the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC), which described the PJS as “a trade union established in 1979, originally located in Jerusalem…[whose  main offices are in Ramallah and it has a branch in the Gaza Strip controlled, in ITIC assessment, by Hamas.”

CAMERA said that the “conflict of interests is clear,” pointing to an example of an AFP article from June 2015, alleging that “[s]ome 17 journalists were killed covering the July-August [2014] Gaza war.” Though AFP did not say what the source for this false information was, the ITIC revealed:

About a week after the end of Operation Protective Edge the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate issued a list of 17 names, allegedly of journalists who had been killed in [the summer 2014 Gaza] operation. The list was published by the PA’s Wafa News Agency, which received it from the Hamas-controlled Gaza office of the ministry of information.

Following this revelation, CAMERA informed AFP editors that “eight of the 17 on the Hamas/PJS list were Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror operatives or worked for Hamas or Islamic Jihad media outfits.”

Based on that information, CAMERA wrote, “AFP commendably revised the story,” yet still failed to include the involvement of PJS. Nor, said CAMERA, has AFP ever disclosed to its readers that one of its journalists holds a high-level position in PJS.

More recently, in March, after attending a “Media and Terrorism” conference in Jordan, the Gaza-based independent news site Al Watan reported on an interview he gave with Mawteny radio, in which he said he had participated in the conference “in order to expose the crimes and practices of the Israeli occupation. He said, ‘We asked Arab media people to intensify their effort to expose the Nazi and racist crimes of the Israeli occupation against the Palestinian people and to bring back the Palestinian cause to the center of the Arab media’s attention.’ He said that the Israeli occupation has implemented its DAESH (ISIS) practices against the Palestinians by destroying Palestinian villages, daily executions, arrests and the targeting of children and journalists in the field. He held the Netanyahu government responsible for legitimizing these practices against the Palestinian people.”

On its website, AFP lists its “core values” as “truth, impartiality and plurality,” stating that “these values guarantee rigorous, verified news, free from political or commercial influence.”

Its definition of “impartiality” is: “pursuing our policy of rigorous neutrality. According to its remit, AFP is independent of the French government and all other economic or political interests. No user of AFP content should detect an opinion contained within the facts presented and AFP journalists resolve to present an account of events free of any form of distortion.”

It goes on to explain what it calls its “pluralism”: “Much of what is reported deals with conflicts and a clash of ideas. Our duty is to present the positions of all parties involved, favouring none.”

CAMERA requested comment from AFP on how employing Abu Baker is consistent with its own stated journalistic values. As of the release of the report, the news outlet had not responded.

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