In the run-up to the presidential elections in the Palestinian Authority scheduled for January 9, 2005, claims have arisen concerning discrimination in the Palestinian media's elections coverage. Several presidential candidates as well as some columnists have claimed that the Palestinian media is attempting to create positive publicity for Abu Mazen, while attacking the other candidates. The following are some of the complaints:
Candidates Who Quit the Race: The Elections Coverage is Not Objective
Former candidate Abd Al-Sattar Qassem, a professor of political science at Al-Najjah University in Nablus, recently quit the race, claiming that it is not "free and fair." In a letter addressed to the central elections committee, Al-Qassem claimed that "there is much evidence proving that the elections are not fair and that the local media and the Arab media are biased in favor of Abu Mazen in an attempt to generate positive public opinion for him at the expense of the other candidates." 
In an article posted on the internet site www.amin.org before he abandoned the race, Al-Qassem wrote: "Only yesterday Abu Mazen was an isolated and insular individual, yet today, after Arafat's passing away, he has turned into a media hero supported by those who [previously] fought against him. All the Arab and world media are rushing to help him win the Palestinian elections. The major Arab satellite channels, like Al-Jazeera, LBC, and Abu Dhabi, report his activities as the Fatah candidate. Similarly, the local newspapers, like Al-Quds, Al-Hayat [Al-Jadida], and Al-Ayyam, are publishing propaganda in his favor, both directly and indirectly. Moreover, local television, Palestinian [official] television, and Palestinian radio are not behaving any differently…
"The other [presidential] candidates – with the occasional exception of Dr. Mustafa Al-Barghuthi – receive only a few lines in the [newspaper] margins. The media is making Abbas [Abu Mazen] into a hero in the same way that the Palestinian people have grown accustomed to over the years. The issue has reached such a pitch that [Egyptian] President Hosni Mubarak intervened and expressed support for Abbas, as did the U.S. Secretary of State. All of the players interested in eliminating the Palestinian cause or interested in promoting the solution of surrender are supporting Abbas with all their might.
"I am obliged to say these things openly because of the great damage done by these media outlets and those who stand behind them. For some time I have been laboring and investing my own money in order to offer an alternative program to Oslo, yet the media is ruining this in order to promote Oslo. I had hoped that the media would be impartial and would allow the candidates to compete among themselves honorably, but it is clear that the U.S. and Israel are opposing this…
"The central elections committee must stop all the elections-related procedures in order to come up with firm regulations preventing all external interference and ensuring the [Palestinian] media's impartiality. What has occurred so far is an ugly fraud that could rob the Palestinian people of their voting rights. The conspiracy is large and frightening, but I am positive that the Palestinian people will overcome all difficulties." 
Another candidate who left the race even earlier, attorney Ghassan Burhum, wrote in the daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida: "In the December 5, 2004 issue of Al-Hayat Al-Jadida the candidates for the Palestinian presidency were put in the line of fire. It was as though this were a premeditated and preplanned attack whose goal was to serve an idea or a collection of ideas favoring a certain stream…
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"The [Palestinian newspaper] columnists have no right to attack the candidates… I call upon these columnists to be God-fearing and to leave the subject of the elections in the hands of the citizens. These columnists must not poison the citizens' minds, suggest to them that these candidates are unfit to perform national duties, or suggest that the citizens should vote for a specific candidate." 
Al-Hayat Al-Jadida Editor Responds: There has been No Political Propaganda
In response to these accusations, the editor of the daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Hafez Al-Barghuthi, wrote: "There are those who accuse us of propaganda in favor of the Fatah candidate Mahmoud Abbas, since we cover his activities; there are those who accuse the press of ignoring the other candidates; and there are also the ambiguous regulations of the central elections committee concerning electoral propaganda, and we do not know what is permitted and what is forbidden.
"There are those who do not want us to publish [any] article concerning the competition in the elections; and there are those who accuse us of opening fire on brother Marwan Al-Barghuthi by publishing articles calling upon him to retract his candidacy, and there are those who read those same articles and accuse us of propaganda in favor of that same candidate [i.e. Al-Barghuthi].
"Mahmoud Abbas is the PLO chairman, and his activities are public political activities, and not an electoral campaign. Thus, news about him is given coverage. Any candidate who conducts regular political activities as he conducted previously will receive the same coverage as before, since such coverage is not political propaganda." 
Palestinian Columnist: Objective Coverage is a Precondition to Building a Culture of Democracy
Columnist Muhsen Abu Ramadhan wrote on the same subject in the daily Al-Ayyam: "The local press and even the Arab satellite channels are focusing solely on the ruling Fatah party's candidate and are only covering activities concerning him. This is probably contributing to promoting the status of Abu Mazen, who was recently elected as chairman of the PLO's executive committee, after the eternal president Yasser Arafat passed away… In my opinion, however, for the sake of justice and objectivity, the other candidates must not be neglected…
"The Arab satellite channels, local television and radio stations, and NGOs active in the areas of democracy and human rights should organize debates among the candidates, especially the principle ones. This issue goes beyond [the question] of media coverage and encompasses the attempt to create a cultural and democratic dimension [in the elections], since this [i.e. the debates] will aid the voting public through emphasizing the differences among the [candidates' various] proposals, plans, goals and personalities.
"Continuing to report on only one single candidate – even if his victory is known in advance – contributes nothing to buttressing this culture. It sanctifies the patriarchal nature of the society and delays the emergence of a multi-faceted and pluralistic society…"