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Journalists urged to boycott PA press freedom award

March 28, 2012 7:33 P.M. (Updated: March 30, 2012 10:05 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- The Palestinian Authority has launched a prize to recognize exemplary reporting, but Palestinian journalists are calling for a boycott in protest of the government's treatment of the media.

The prime minister in Ramallah, Salam Fayyad, unveiled the prize Tuesday and invited journalists to submit work on all platforms during the first half of April. The winner is to be announced in May.

The prize, which is awarded annually, is intended to “support local media and encourage journalists to compete and produce quality and daring material that addresses citizens' concerns," Fayyad said.

But the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, the main union for Palestinian media workers, is calling on reporters to boycott the award in light of the arrest of a journalist who reported on allegations of PA corruption.

Yousef al-Shayeb was arrested Monday and a Palestinian court extended the remand 15 days on Wednesday. The government is seeking $6 million in "restitution" for his report for a Jordanian newspaper. The story quoted sources who made serious allegations against the Palestinian mission in Paris as well as the foreign minister.

After holding an emergency meeting Wednesday, the syndicate called on all journalists and Palestinian media to focus attention on al-Shayeb’s case, which it called a blow to freedom of the press and expression.

In his remarks Tuesday, Fayyad called a professional local media "one of the most important pillars of an independent Palestinian state, as it is the fourth branch of the government, which must be respected."

He added that the government established the award as "a commitment to the promise it made two years ago which is that it will always be supportive and a protector of freedom of expression and opinion."

Al-Shayeb, meanwhile, has started a hunger strike protesting his arrest, the journalists syndicate said. It called for supporting the reporter and said the court decision Wednesday marked a "dark day" for press freedom.
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