When the Bethlehem-based M'aan News Agency (MNA) was launched in 2005, with generous funding from the Danish, Dutch and UK governments
as well as the EU, UNDP, and UNESCO, many Palestinians thought, or more correctly hoped, it would be a qualitative addition to the highly polarized and chronically biased Palestinian media.
Some observers thought the European-funded outlet would soon overcome its numerous problems, including a shocking lack of professionalism, under-trained or untrained staff, serious reportorial flaws and the highly anti-Islamic tendentiousness characterizing the agency's general discourse.
However, eight years on, it seems that the overall performance of M'aan is exacerbating and regressing, almost from every conceivable perspective.
I don't claim to be the ultimate arbiter who determines what is journalistically professional and what is not. However, there is ample evidence indicting MNA for its excessive un-professionalism, biased news writing, and the brazenly scandalous mixing of hard news with personal opinions. One doesn't have to have a Ph.D. in journalism from a prestigious college to detect these flaws.
I am not happy about this sorry state of affair afflicting the agency. I don't think anyone is. Deviation-especially willful deviation-from professional standards and ethics is a cardinal sin in journalism. True journalists must always cling to the timeless journalistic maxim: facts are sacred, comments are free.
Last week, I sought to alert M'aan to the rampant mixing of hard news with personal views by its reporters. I wrote an Arabic piece to that effect entitled ليست بريئة وعليها الالتزام بأخلاق المهنة معا" " وكالة ( The M'aan News Agency is not innocent and must abide by the ethics of the profession) in the hope that the agency would try to fix the serious flaws.
I spoke twice with an official at the agency headquarters in Bethlehem but to no avail. Eventually, M'aan, which promised to publish the article as an opinion piece, reneged on its promise. Ostensibly, the editorial board viewed the piece too damaging to its reputation and image. But the article was published by some Palestinian newspapers and posted on several websites.
This writer can actually present hundreds of examples where M'aan reporters mixed their own views with hard news. This is not an exaggeration. The mixing of hard news with personal views actually constitutes a sort of modus operandi at M'aan. M'aan does this every hour, every day, every week and every month, either willfully or out ignorance or simply due to the absence of accountability.
Consider the following report, published by M'aan on Monday, 25 August, 2013 around noon. The lead paragraph of the Arabic text of report reads:
"دعت الجبهة الديمقراطية وحزب الكرامة الناصري إلى عدم الخلط بين شعب فلسطين وقواه الثورية والديمقراطية وبين أية عناصر فلسطينية يمينية دينية طائفية متخلفة وظلامية منخرطة مع الارهابيين لإعادة مصر إلى الوراء عشرات عشرات السنين."
The translation: Cairo: M'aan news Agency-" The Democratic Front (for the Liberation of Palestine) and the (Egyptian) Nasserist Karama (Dignity) Party called for making a distinction between the people of Palestine and its revolutionary and democratic forces on the one hand- and on the other hand- any rightist Palestinian elements that are religious, sectarian, primitive and obscurant, which are involved with the terrorists, who want to take Egypt back tens tens of years."
Notice the word "tens" was printed twice, which means the report may not have passed through the editorial section or was even seen by the proofreader!
Now, is this type of news writing compatible with the professional standards that journalism students learn in journalism schools and universities? The truth of the matter is this type of news writing has more in common with the performance of the Soviet Communist newspaper, Pravda, or worse, the Nazi Party newspaper, Der Strumer.
Indeed, if M'aan had had a modicum of professionalism it could have placed the offending epithets such as "rightist, sectarian, primitive, obscurant, terrorists, who want to take Egypt back tens of years" between quotation marks so that the reader would know that the words were contained in the communiqué text, and were not the reporter's. But M'aan did nothing of this sort.
Again, this scandalous unprofessional and unethical type of news writing seems to represent the standard, not the exception, at M'aan, which really prompted this writer to write this piece in the first place.
I don't know for sure if this conspicuous flaw is the result of ignorance of professional standards, negligence or clumsiness on M'aan's part. It could be a combination of all of these factors. But, whatever the case may be, M'aan is guilty of violating one of the main golden rules of journalism. I personally wish I could give M'aan the benefit of the doubt. I harbor no grudges or ill-will against the news agency. However, the rampancy of this morbid phenomenon, the mixing of views with hard news, leaves no excuses, justifications or extenuating circumstances that may vindicate M'aan.
I know that a lot of defensive reflexes or furious "counterattacks" will be unleashed against me. But many college students and young journalists are viewing M'aan as an inspiration and an example to be followed.
So, is this the type of journalism ethics that M'aan is trying to inculcate future Palestinian journalists with?
A final word to the donors funding M'aan. I don't recommend you sever funding to the news agency. But I do insist you make it abundantly clear to the agency management that your tax-payer money must not be utilized to foster falsehood, promote hatred and racism against important segments of our people, and especially to undermine the cause of honest and professional journalism in Palestine.
This writer will continue to monitor M'aan's professional performance until the news agency rectifies its unprofessional discourse. I hope this will happen sooner rather than later.