16 December 09
The roots of the policy go back to the 2006 war in Lebanon, when Hezbollah manipulated the press as a weapon against Israel. We saw staged photo ops, accusations that Israel spared Hezbollah rockets for P.R. purposes allegations of uranium shells, and of course, Reuters' ownAdnan Hajj, the poster boy for Mideast "fauxtography."
Dispatches from Lebanon mostly failed to acknowledge Hezbollah's media restrictions, further distorting reports and violating media ethics.
Fast-forward to December, 2008. As rocket and mortar fire from Gaza escalated and Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, it's hardly surprising that the IDF barred journalists from entering the strip after learning hard lessons in Lebanon.
The two most common arguments raised for press restrictions in fact have more compelling counter-arguments:
• It's condescending to tell war correspondents that restrictions are for their safety.
• To claim journalists would get in the way of soldiers may certainly apply to specific military operations, but it's not the basis for a democratic state's blanket policy.
It must be noted that the restrictions could not -- and did not -- lead to an absolute blackout of coverage; plenty of Palestinian journalists were operating in Gaza when the war began. Al-Jazeera still maintained a bureau and took the unusual step of making its content freely available, leading to an astonishing 600 percent increase in web traffic. Other papers relied on stringers. Italian journalist Lorenzo Cremonesisimply entered Gaza from Egypt.