RAMALLAH Feb 22 (JMCC) - On the rolls of Palestinian journalists were college students and politicians, hairdressers and salesmen.
Twenty years after the last elections in the journalist’s association, political division and rivalry rendered this month’s vote a competition over national politics, with little to do with the work of the press.
These elections were “a bit mysterious over who is a journalist,” admits newly-elected administrative council member Muhammed Lahham. “But holding the elections is much better than keeping on the former members, who didn’t carry their weight.”
Fraught with controversy, the Feb. 6 elections were contested for being illegal. But more striking was the manner in which factional competition has rendered the professional body almost irrelevant.
Ever since Hamas and Fateh became serious rivals, the professional unions of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip have become one more forum for proving who is in charge.
This year, journalist association elections were not even held in the Gaza Strip – Hamas authorities declared them illegal.
The result was a clear victory for the list that represents factions in the Palestine Liberation Union, nearly half of them members of Fateh.
When one reporter polled the room at the Ramallah elections, he found that many of the 500 members voting or running were not working reporters.
Hamza Mansour, a college junior, had no affiliation with the media.
One woman who refused to give her name and place of employment said only, “I’m a journalist.”
“There are many other names that don’t have anything to do with journalism,” Lahham told JMCC. He rattled off half a dozen names of people who ran for office in the journalist’s association – among them a grassroots leader in the People’s Party, a member of the Democratic Front for Liberation of Palestine’s politburo, the Gauloise cigarettes agent in Bethlehem, a barber and a hairdresser.
At the same time, some well-known journalists have had their membership in the journalist’s association revoked, Lahham says. Abdel-Hafith Jaawan, reporter for al-Arabia satellite channel, Nasser Lahham, Maan Agency’s editor-in-chief and Majid Said, reporter for Abu Dhabi television, have all had their memberships rescinded without explanation.
The outcome of the elections mean that the journalist’s association president will be chosen directly by Fateh’s governing body, the central committee, says a source.
All expectations are that Abdel Nasser Najjar, al-Ayyam’s newspaper’s editor-in-chief, will lead the association.
Najjar confirms that he is expected to be elected president, and says despite the controversy, these association elections are “a milestone.”
“The new association will march forward in the process of constructing a strong and protected journalistic body,” he says.
THE FOURTH ESTATE
Hafith Jaawan, whose membership in the association has been revoked, disagrees. He was angered as he watched those with no affiliation to the press vote in elections where he himself was not allowed to participate.
“These elections do not represent the journalists. The organizers previously attacked journalists. Many voting members were politicians and have nothing to do with journalism,” Jaawan says.
“The relationship between the journalist and the politician is normally antagonistic, and possibly hostile - not a relationship of loyalty where the journalist is a pawn that the politician moves as he wishes.”
He says the elections are null and void.
New elections will be held after one year to 18 months, during which time the association will rewrite its membership rules.