BBC and New York Times Omit Coverage of Palestinian Corruption Story

The Jerusalem Post has published a series of articles relaying accusations by the former head of the Palestinian Authority’s anti-corruption department, Fahmi Shabaneh, that close associates of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas engaged in embezzlement, land theft and fraud. According to Post correspondent Khalid Abu Toameh, Shabaneh possesses numerous documents exposing the theft of government money, much of which comes from foreign donations.

These revelations are only part of the story. An equally troubling aspect of this scandal is the accusation by Shabaneh that he offered his information to foreign journalists and they refused it for fear of offending the Palestinian government. According to the Jerusalem Post story on Feb. 11, 2010, Shabaneh claims he

decided to talk to the Post after Palestinian, Arab and foreign media organizations refused to interview him out of fear of being “punished” by the PA.

Shabaneh explained further, “Al-Jazeera and other Arab media outlets told me that they are afraid to publish anything that angers the Palestinian Authority.”

Unfortunately, the Arab media is not free to publish what they would like, but the same excuse does not apply to Western journalists. The Jerusalem Post report continues,  

Shabaneh said that even some foreign journalists based in the country had refused to publish his statements, citing various pretexts, including fear of retribution by the PA.

“Some of the foreign journalists don’t want to hear negative things about Fatah and Abbas,” he said. “That’s why they didn’t want to cooperate with me and why I decided to go to the Post.”

Even after the story broke on Jan. 29, 2010, there was nearly total silence about Shabaneh’s accusations. A search of major publications indicates the National Post of Canada was the only western print media to cover the story for nearly two weeks after the Jerusalem Post published the revelations.

The Associated Press published a brief piece on February 10. The headline of the story read: “Israeli TV alleges Palestinian corruption” — rather than citing the Palestinian official Shabaneh who is actually the party alleging corruption. The article does discuss Shabaneh’s accusations briefly but also allots as much space to denials by Palestinian government officials. The New York Times and the BBC, both of whom typically devote extensive coverage to claims of Israeli malfeasance, ignored the story.

After Israeli TV aired an undercover video provided by Shabaneh of Rafik Husseini, a senior aid to Palestinian President Abbas, extorting sex from a young woman who had sought his assistance, the story gained wider exposure. Only then did the New York Times report on the story, although it made the sexual escapade the main focus of the story rather than the more serious issue of financial corruption.

The BBC, which routinely puts Israel under the microscope and rushes to play up any alleged wrongdoing by Israelis, has yet to cover the financial corruption exposed by Shabaneh at all on its Web site. Only on Feb. 14 did its the site carry a brief article describing the undercover video of Husseini, without even naming Shabaneh or identifying him as the head of a Palestinian Authority anti-corruption investigation.
The failure of the Times and the BBC to cover Palestinian financial corruption is a longstanding trend. A Nexis search of Times articles using the keywords “misconduct” or “scandal” or “corruption” and “Palestinians” identified the last article to scrutinize Palestinian financial misappropriation on March 9, 2006 following the Hamas election victory. More recent articles that even mention Palestinian financial mismanagement and corruption in passing usually do so in the context of Palestinian efforts to correct past flaws.

A search on the BBC Web site using “Palestinian” and “corruption”  turned up a friendly interview with Palestinian official Saeb Erekat, two pieces in 2004, and prior pieces in 2001 and 1998. One of the pieces in 2004 was an interview with anti-Israel parliamentarian Jenny Tonge which only briefly mentioned Palestinian financial improprieties in response to a question and mostly consisted of Tonge’s unrelenting attacks on Israel. In other words, the BBC has barely mentioned Palestinian corruption and when it has it is usually a brief mention within the context of a friendly interview with a Palestinian official or sympathizer.

By the standard applied to coverage of Israel, neither the BBC nor the New York Times can justifiably argue that it did not cover the story because of lack of substantiation of the charges. Both outlets, especially the BBC, routinely cover allegations against Israel that lack solid evidence. For example, the Times dutifully reported the accusations leveled against Israel by discredited Human Rights Watch expert Marc Garlasco in July 2009 despite the controversy surrounding his history of charges against Israel. CAMERA has documented numerous stories carried by the BBC that lack substantiation or are based on flimsy evidence.
Why the BBC and the New York Times along with other mainstream media sources avoid covering stories of Palestinian financial misconduct can only be guessed. What this unfolding story does expose is a gross double standard and an astonishing lack of interest in the inner workings of the Palestinian Authority apart from its relationship to Israel. Obvious as well is the simple conclusion that the BBC and the Times can’t be trusted for the full story.  

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