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February 22, 2012 10:48 am

Exclusive: The Real Story of CNN’s Firing of Jerusalem Bureau Journalists

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CNN center newsroom. Photo: Altair78.

CNN’s decision to fire four Jewish Israeli journalists from the cable network’s Jerusalem bureau earlier this month was due in part to their religion and nationality, and to their perceived inability to operate freely throughout the Middle East, the Algemeiner has learned.

“The fact is, just Jewish Israelis were fired from CNN,” said a source who was directly involved in the layoffs and who requested anonymity. While reports said CNN had fired all its Jewish workers from the bureau, the source told the Algemeiner that “they left 2 Jewish Israeli journalists but here’s the catch, they’re each  working one shift a week for 8 hours.”

According to the person involved in this matter, CNN’s belief, including that of bureau chief Kevin Flower, was that Jewish Israelis would not be allowed or welcomed into Gaza, the West Bank and other countries in the region, so it made the most sense to cut those who might become a problem.

The source charged that CNN is considering replacing the fired staff members with hires in other countries in the region.  The person said “I understand they are planning on changing their coverage, it might be that the staff won’t be based in Israel even, and if a story happens in Israel, they will take the first flight and cover it, and so an Israeli is a pain in the neck for them.”

On February 15th, Turner Broadcasting, the parent company of CNN, posted a job listing, with the following description:

The Jerusalem photojournalist is responsible for recording images and sound to illustrate CNN news events and stories as well as editing and feeding video.

The location for the position is posted as “United Arab Emirates – Abu Dhabi.”.

In early February, soon after CNN announced it was reducing its headcount in Jerusalem by firing four of its 10-person staff there, the network denied reports that it was cutting only Jewish Israelis because of their background. At the time, the Atlanta-based media outlet issued a statement saying, “CNN strongly rejects any suggestion that the reorganization in the Jerusalem bureau is in any way based on the small number of contract employees concerned being Israeli, particularly given CNN’s long history of working with locals in the region.”

The current staff of CNN’s Jerusalem bureau consists of bureau chief Kevin Flower, Flower’s administrative assistant, who is Jewish, an Israeli Arab producer, a Spanish correspondent with Israeli identification and the two Jewish Israeli’s working one shift each per week, according to the source. “One Palestinian producer remains at the bureau but he has Israeli identification,” this person said, charging that the Arab Israeli from East Jerusalem is “working for the Palestinian cause.”

At the time of publication, CNN’s public relations office in Atlanta and their bureau  in Jerusalem had not responded to The Algemeiner’s requests for comment on this story.

Moreover, according to the source at least one of the people who was let go was informed by phone, a practice that is illegal in Israel. Yair Green, a lawyer at the Moshe Kahan law firm in Tel Aviv, said that in Israel, before someone is fired, “an in person hearing needs to be conducted.”

The source quoted Kevin Flower as saying that the bureau was cutting its staff to conform with other bureaus. But the person quoted Flower as telling staffers that “we need journalists but we will need journalists that are able to go to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and to all the Middle East.”

Part of CNN’s statement in response to the backlash from this incident spoke about “operational and technological efficiency”.

“CNN has recently reviewed its worldwide operations, an exercise we do regularly to ensure operational and technological efficiency in everything we do. As part of this exercise, we have reorganized the CNN bureau in Jerusalem.”

The source made it clear that CNN’s decision to downsize was understandable. “From my point of view, they were fired because they are Israeli,” this person told the Algemeiner.

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