Press under fire as Israeli offensive continues

As Israel steps up its military offensive into Lebanon, journalists covering the conflict continue to come under fire. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says crews from four Arab television stations told the organisation that on 22 July 2006, Israeli aircraft fired missiles within 75 metres of them to prevent them from covering the effects of Israel’s bombardment of the eastern town of Khiam.

The journalists said their convoy of vehicles was chased by Israeli fighter aircraft which fired missiles on the road behind them as they approached a bombed-out bridge. The journalists said they managed to escape on back roads but the planes followed and again trapped the vehicles by firing missiles at the road ahead of them and behind them. Eventually, the journalists left their vehicles and walked to the village of Hasb Bayah, where the Lebanese Red Cross has a post.

An Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman told CPJ, “We are targeting the roads because Hezbollah uses those roads. Under no circumstances do we target civilians, including the media.”

Conditions are extremely dangerous for journalists in Lebanon. Journalists told CPJ that any vehicles, including TV vehicles, traveling between towns and villages have been targeted by Israeli planes if spotted on the road. They also said obtaining live television pictures of the Israeli operation along the border from the Lebanese side is now virtually impossible.

A photojournalist and a television station technician have already been killed in the past three weeks since Israel launched a bombing campaign in retaliation for a cross-border raid by Hezbollah guerrillas.

Meanwhile, newspaper editors and executives in Lebanon fear their publications may not be able to hold out much longer if the war continues, reports the World Association of Newspapers (WAN).

The destruction of basic infrastructure has led to a massive drop in advertising, major distribution problems and fears of paper supply shortages.

Ayad Tassabehji, general manager of the English-language “Daily Star”, wonders how newspapers can continue publishing if both circulation and advertising continue to drop. “In times of war, advertising decreases and sales drop since less news agents are open and roads are blocked.”

Advertising has become a problem for every newspaper. “It has dropped by 50 or 60 per cent,” says Edmond Saab, executive editor-in-chief of one of the most popular Arabic-language dailies, “An-Nahar”. Sales of the publication have slightly increased.

The embargo imposed by the Israeli army has also posed a major logistical problem for newspapers. “The borders are closed for any shipment. We will run out of newsprint by the end of the month,” says Tassabehji.

The French-language daily “L’Orient Le Jour” and “An-Nahar” say they are facing the same problem.

The precarious security situation is also preventing the newspapers’ reporters from getting out to cover unfolding events.

“There are no taxis, no fuel and roads have been bombed, isolating some regions from the rest of the country,” says George Chamieh, financial director of “L’Orient Le Jour”.

“The main difficulty is security of the staff coming in and out of the office. The other is to keep staff moral up,” says Tassabehji of “The Daily Star”.

“Humans in general - and journalists are no exception - become demoralized after few days of bombing. It is almost impossible to write a business story when you know that a bomb might fall on your head.”

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