The ONLY active voice for American Arab Journalists.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Society of Professional Journalists bows to anti-Arab racism and terminates Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award

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The Society of Professional Journalists took off their hat of objectivity and pushed aside their principles of free speech to take a political position to censure Helen Helen Thomas because she had the courage to criticize supporters of the foreign Government of Israel.

It's not a secret that some members of the SPJ are biased when it comes to the Middle East and cannot make decisions based on objectivity or professional journalism ethics and they decided to punish Thomas for expressing those views critical of Israel. The SPJ received many letters of protest from American Arab journalists like myself, but true to today's SPJ's anti-Arab bias, they never acknowledged the letters.

In fact, when the SPJ voted to terminate the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award under pressure from the politically motivated campaign by the New York offices of the Anti-Defamation League, the SPJ notified only those letter writers who were either pro-Israel or whose letters defended Thomas but expressed support for Israel. NONE of the American Arabs who protested the planned moved were ever notified about the SPJ's decision. That notice came from one of the other letter writers who tried to maintain a middle-road stance criticizing Thomas but defending her right to express her views.

Helen Thomas had the absolute right to express her views on Israel and Zionism. Her critics distorted her comments and cast them falsely as anti-Semitic. The irony is that the so-called objective journalist members of the SPJ ignored the facts and accepted the accusations of anti-Semitism without challenge and against the actual facts, in making their decision.

The SPJ over the past year has taken several steps that are anti-Arab and anti-Muslim, including the closing of the Arab al-Sahafiyeen Blog and Arab Journalism SAection set up about five years ago. The section allowed American Arab journalists to discuss issues that they are facing, and what Arab journalists experience in the 10 year long wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorism act and its impact on American Arabs should be a priority topic for discussion. But a bigoted SPJ president, without even discussing the issue with the American Arab members of the SPJ, ordered the Arab Section shut down, and only when he was confronted six months later did he assert that he objected to the "political" content that was being discussed.

None of the topics were focused on politics and ALL of the writings had to do with issues facing American Arabs. The fact that some of those challenges involved politics should have been irrelevant.

The reality is that the current SPJ national board has made a loud and clear proclamation of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry. Their actions are an insult to professional journalism. They have declared that the SPJ is not about protecting free speech but instead is mandated with the responsibility of protecting accepted political positions at the expense of free speech.

The SPJ has compromised its ethics and violated its own Code of Ethics by taking this clearly political action. It has declared loudly that it is no longer an objective professional journalism association but rather it is now a political lobbying group for partisan political viewpoints. Not all partisan political viewpoints, but those that it feels addresses the controversies involving the Middle East conflict.

Pathetic and shameful.

They didn't even have the decency to inform the American Arab members of SPJ who have worked so hard to help make SPJ a truly professional organization. To be slapped in the face by the SPJ board is in fact typical of the current anti-Arab and anti-Muslim attitudes that shamefully represent today's SPJ.

Hopefully, those bigots will be thrown off of the SPJ board and objective, professional journalists and communicators will take their place to weigh ALL issues fairly and through the eyes of journalists not political activists.

-- Ray Hanania


Amani said...

SPJ calls to protect Journalism freedom of speech and punishes who dares to do it.
Unfortunately today you can criticize the American President with more freedom than to criticize Israel inhumane actions in the Middle East.
Helen Thomas dedicated 68 years of her life for Journalism and freedom of speech. She’s been unfairly judged and doesn’t deserve this.
Unfortunately none of the SPJ board members have half the courage she had to stop this unprofessional decision.

Peter said...

Whether the "retirement" of the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award because of her informal comments was racist or just plain moronic, it was very wrong, contemptuous of the spirit of free speech and press, diversity and ethics that SPJ has always claimed are its core missions. Principles aren't worth much if they can be compromised because of fear of repercussions. Many SPJ members -- Jews and non-Jews alike -- share my disappointment and anger at this decision. I have been the recipient of national awards from SPJ, including its First Amendment Award, and I hope those awards won't be "retired" because of anything I say here or might say in the future.