BBC news chief condemns Israeli actions

The BBC’s world news editor, Jonathan Baker, has joined the chorus of condemnation of the Israeli authorities after reporter Orla Guerin was rounded on by government troops.

Baker said the incident on Monday was “the most serious that we have encountered directly since the start of the second intifada.”

He said he suspected Israel was prepared to take even stronger measures to conceal what was happening in the occupied territories from the outside world.

His remarks came the day Israeli police fired tear gas to hold back more than 2,000 Israeli activists - Jews and Arabs - who were trying to deliver humanitarian supplies to the besieged West Bank town of Ramallah.

“It’s part of series of incidents in recent weeks which have prompted suspicions that the Israelis are prepared to take ever stronger measures to discourage media organisations from reporting what’s happening in the occupied territories,” said Baker.

“They are now seeking to exclude journalists from Ramallah and Bethlehem by declaring them military zones, and suggesting that future freedom to work in Israel may be a problem for those who continue to report from there.

“We are well aware of the dangers of continuing to report from Israel, and do everything we can to minimise them.

“We are also mindful that the Palestinian Authority has from time to time put obstacles in the way of free reporting of events in the occupied territories.

“The possibility that the Israelis are willing to fire on journalists, by way of warning or otherwise, obviously increases those dangers considerably,” he added.

Baker’s statement follows a welter of criticism from press freedom organisations at the Israeli authorities draconian stance towards press and international observers.

Earlier today Ann Cooper, the director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, issued a strong statement, saying: “Barring journalists from conflict areas constitutes censorship”.

And another press group, Reporters Sans Frontieres, called for the immediate lifting of the ban.

Baker said the BBC, along with other media groups including the Guardian and the Foreign Press Association, had made representations to the Israeli authorities.