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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Alan Johnston: a tragedy and its misuse

UPDATE: this report suggests I have been overly pessimistic - let's hope so.

Alan Johnston, the BBC's man in Gaza, is almost certainly dead. It's not the worst crime committed in the Middle East this week, but it's bad enough.

The news that somebody has accused the Israelis of being behind the kidnapping and killing would not in itself be worth passing on. Let's face it, they're to blame for everything else, and it's not at all the kind of behaviour you'd expect from a bona fide group of militant Islamists. What makes the accusation slightly more remarkable is the fact that it comes from a retired colleague of Johnston's.

I can only suggest that Alan Hart spends a little more time studying his former employers' output. He would then be aware that Johnston's Gaza posting was due to end last month (see the final sentence here). Like all conspiracy theorists Hart needs nothing more than a good cui bono argument to set him off - but he doesn't even have that.

Jon feels the Beeb's recruitment of loonies should at least be a little more balanced. Well, Jon, I fear that's a battle you'll have to fight without any help from the National Union of Journalists. Following a conference vote for a boycott of Israel, General Secretary Jeremy Dear argues that the Palestinian journalists' union has earnt this gesture by supporting the campaign for Johnston's release. A fascinating concept: journalists needing to be rewarded for being opposed to the kidnapping and killing of journalists.

And whilst Mr Dear insists that 'The boycott call has nothing to do with reporting. The NUJ is not telling members how to report Israel', he also seems to suggest that Johnston in his turn earned Palestinian support by being 'so keen to help [the Palestinian people] through his reporting'. So how vocal would the Palestinian journalists' union have been on his behalf if his reporting had been a little less helpful towards the Palestinians and more obliging towards the Israelis?

But has Mr Dear pondered where he stands if Alan Hart is right and Johnston's killers were Israeli? If the Israeli journalists' union condemns the crime, the NUJ will want to reward them by rescinding the boycott, yes? No? Only an idea.

Leaving the asylum for a breath of fresh air, I note that Donald Macintyre of the Indie and Alan Rusbridger of the Grauniad have come out against the boycott - a stance which will certainly get a mixed reception from readers of their papers. So respect to both, and also to Tory MP and Times man Michael Gove, though he will presumably face less flak for his decision to resign from the NUJ. Let him have the last word:-

'This boycott is not of a repressive state that outlaws free expression (of which, sadly, there are still too many) but of one of the few states in the Middle East with a proper free press: Israel.

'The NUJ exists to defend, among other virtues, freedom of speech. That virtue is better defended in Israel than in any other nation of the Middle East and it comes under assault daily from forces driven by fanaticism.'

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