'The Journalism of Exception'
Or What Foreign Correspondents Do All Day,
and Wouldn't a Job in PR Offer Better Benefits


Democracy at war: Israel

Israel prides itself on being the only democracy in the Middle East. Yet its commitment to a free press has been less than total during assorted security "emergencies" such as the Palestinian intifada. The foreign media, alongside domestic media, have been required to comply with "voluntary censorship agreements," according to IPI Report.

With the outbreak of the intifada, in April 1988 the Israeli army briefly banned all foreign reporters from the occupied territories except for a "pool" that traveled with the military. Although the ban was eventually lifted, the Israelis closed down the Palestinian Press Service, a source of information from within the territories. Henceforth, reporting from the "closed military zones" became dangerous for the foreign media.

Typical Israeli military response to the presence of foreign correspondents includes: restricting the mobility of journalists, detention and beatings, expulsions, destruction of film and notes and shooting rubber bullets. These practices continued throughout the duration of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.

War reporting: Algeria and Yugoslavia

When the army canceled legislative elections in January 1992, to prevent victory by the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), Algeria became embroiled in a brutal civil war that continues (to a lesser degree) to this day. An estimated 70,000 people have been killed in the violence. Although the national press has suffered the most in this conflict, Algeria nevertheless has been one of the most difficult countries in the world for foreign journalists to work. (Only Agence France Press has maintained a bureau in Algiers. Local reporters, all working under various forms of intimidation, also have reported for Reuters and the Associated Press.)

For several years, Algerian authorities enforced a policy of providing mandatory escorts for foreign reporters, thus severely curtailing their ability to effectively cover the country's ongoing civil war. The presence of escorts prevented reporters from traveling to sites of the conflict, conducting sensitive interviews and meeting with opposition figures. The government's ongoing restrictions on the foreign press, coupled with the absence of foreign news outlets in the country have contributed to a lack of detailed information about the conflict.

The Algerian government argues that security escorts are necessary for foreign journalists' protection. Yet by the government's own admission, in recent years the country's security situation has improved: "terrorism" has become a "residual" phenomenon, the government has said. Foreign reporters who travel to Algeria increasingly describe mandatory security escorts as a mechanism of government control--to monitor and restrict the reporting and movements of journalists--rather than a means of protection, according to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The independent collection of information is almost impossible since the authorities keep the foreign press in the dark. The security forces regularly offer false information regarding the violence and number of people killed. "Restrictions on the foreign media, the sheer difficulty of obtaining sources of information, and an overall lack of media pluralism further contribute to keeping many details about Algeria's bloody war beyond the reach of the public," according to the CPJ.

The breakup of Yugoslavia and the subsequent civil war began in the early 1990s. The war continued unabated throughout most of 1990s resulting in Europe’s worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. As the foreign press swooped in to cover the mayhem, it too became the target of much harassment and bloodshed. For the sake of brevity the following recounts only the experiences of foreign correspondents during the Kosovo war.

The Serbian province of Kosovo became the focus of the press’ attention when it seemed as if it too would secede. From the beginning of this latest round of hostilities, Serbian authorities attempted to prevent the foreign press from covering the territory. Visas and press credentials were denied to many foreign correspondents.

In 1998 a German reporter was denied an entry visa because he was charged with unfairly covering the civil war; another three German reporters were expelled after being accused of setting a house on fire in order to film it; a Serbian film crew working for AP’s TV Network was arrested and beaten and their film confiscated; an Albanian reporter working for AFP was beaten by police; crews working for Reuters and Belgian TV were beaten and their equipment destroyed by police; an American journalist was jailed 10 days because he did not register himself with the local police; a Danish TV crew was shot at while in its press-marked car; two British correspondents traveling with the Kosovo Observer Mission were beaten by police; and a Russian correspondent was beaten by the Kosovo Liberation Army and his equipment destroyed, according to IPI Report.

In 1999, two British reporters and their Albanian translator were shot at (two were injured); two German reporters and their translator were killed; and two French reporters and one Croatian were arrested in Montenegro on spying charges, according to the CPJ.

Authoritarian regimes: China and Indonesia

China’s relations with the foreign press may be "safer" for said press, but no less obstructionist. China is in a peculiar position: on the one hand it is an authoritarian regime opposed to anyone who wants to undermine its authority; on the other it has been steadily opening up to the world as part of its economic development.

Although it is much kinder to the foreign press than it is to its own independent press and dissidents, it nevertheless seeks to limit just about any information regarding the country under the "national security" guise: in China all information is a state secret, including divorce statistics, and accusing a foreign reporter of spying is a good reason to expel him or her, according to a May 30, 1992, article in The Economist. China’s contemporary relations with the foreign press have been formed around two events: coverage of the Tiannmen Square massacre and the hand over of democratic Hong Kong and Macau.

The handling of the foreign press ranges from surveillance by the secret police and limiting travel to certain areas, to more direct approaches such as searches of residences, detainment, verbal admonishments and beatings, according to IPI Report (March 1993). The effect is to limit the amount of interaction foreign reporters have with the Chinese. This has been especially effective since the crack down after Tiannmen Square: Chinese dissidents have been reluctant to speak with the foreign press because being seen with a reporter can have repercussions for that individual.

Since its invasion and annexation in 1976 by Indonesia, some 200,000 East Timorese have been killed by the Indonesian military. East Timor had been largely ignored by the foreign press until the last couple of years when economic troubles in Indonesia focused the world’s attention on the island.

While covering East Timor, journalists have faced danger from both the Indonesian military and pro-Indonesian Timorese militias, as well as the usual expulsions and/or being banned from entering the island. In justifying such measures, Indonesian authorities have accused journalists of meddling in its internal politics and "bullying the military," according to IPI Report.

The situation in East Timor deteriorated during the summer of 1999 after a pro-independence vote. According to the CPC, attacks on foreign journalists became almost a routine event. Dozens were beaten and shot at by militias (often with Indonesian military watching and doing nothing to prevent it); one was killed.