Quite by accident, through a casual search on Daylife just now, I discovered that my name and reporting contribution from Jerusalem has been removed from a story published last June by the Middle East Times, then based in Cyprus.
The Middle East Times has been taken over by UPI in Washington as of the end of October — a month later than planned.
I had been writing for Middle East Times for something over a year, but I only learned of this change on 20 August, two days after moving to Jerusalem from Geneva, Switzerland.
The implication for me, I was informed, was that although it had been very nice to work with me, my contract was being cut. Apparently, the editors and the corporation needed to be protected from any “liabilities”.
CAST OF CHARACTERS:
Claude Salhani is the “new” editor of Middle East Times, based in Washington, where he apparently continues to work, unconcerned by all this, as some sort of International Editor for UPI (although UPI has also cancelled its Foreign news service, and broken the same sort of lousy contracts with any journalist who was unlucky enough to sign on the dotted line). He has his own blog, www.claudesalhani.blogspot.com in which he describes himself this way: “Claude Salhani is Editor of the Middle East Times and a contributing editor to United Press International. He specializes in political analysis of the Mideast & terrorism”.
This photo is posted on www.claudesalhani.blogspot.com:
Grahame Bennett continues to work, from Cyprus, as Managing Editor of Middle East Times. He has said he can do nothing (except to try to protect himself, of course … And we all know the tactic: “the best defense is a good offense”…)
When I started to write for METimes, in the spring of 2006, I was informed by the then-editor, Grahame Bennett, (who was changed to managing editor sometime around the end of the year), that METimes really wouldn’t want much from Geneva, but they would take much more material from me if I moved to the region.
I travelled to Jerusalem via Cyprus in May 2007, and there I was required to sign a worse-than-useless, seven-page, one-year contract to work as an “independent contractor” in order to receive a letter of accreditation for Israel and for the Palestinian Authority. After receiving my press credentials in Jerusalem, I worked flat out for about six weeks, producing many stories. And on 26 June, I returned to Geneva to pack.
In July, there was an exchange of correspondence with Grahame Bennett— but absolutely no warning of any impending change.
I realized that I had put out quite a lot of my own money out-of-pocket, well over a thousand dollars in phone and transportation costs, when I was writing from Jerusalem, Ramallah and Gaza. And, when I went to Gaza for several days, as soon as the Erez checkpoint was opened for journalists in mid-June, after the Hamas take-over, I paid for a hotel and other expenses myself. I asked Grahame Bennett, the managing editor if he could make a provision to cover some of these sorts of expenses. He said no. (He also did not pay me for all my articles that he published in Middle East Times — he said I wrote “too much”.) I also asked Grahame Bennett if he could please process my payments on a monthly basis (instead of every six months or so). On 19 July, Grahame Bennett replied: “Once you’re back in Israel we’ll be able to pay for one or two articles a week and I don’t foresee a problem in processing your payments on a monthly basis“.
Then, on 24 July, Grahame Bennett sent another message: “I’ve given a lot of thought to your letter and I’d really like to help you out financially. But the reality that I’m faced with is that the budget is the budget and that’s the bottom line. Like you, I’m trying to make limited resources work in the best way I can, and I’m expected to do what is best for MET and that’s what determines my choices. We’re distributing our financial resources across a wide geographical area and our overall editorial strategy hasn’t changed. A targeted editorial spending plan needs to be strategy-led. It does not benefit MET to pour more resources into covering Israel/Palestine issues because it’s so well covered by everybody already. In fact, MET’s future editorial focus is tending towards theme-based beats and away from geographical beats. To be honest, I’m not sure what MET will look like a year from now…and I can safely say that most online media planners would say the same. Things are happening so rapidly online that publications are having to rapidly adapt. Anyway, whichever way things go we’ll always need news, analysis and opinion“.
On 19 August, I returned to Jerusalem. On 21 August, I received a message sent late the previous night from Grahame Bennett in Cyprus, informing me that: “The (M.E.T.) Middle East Times Ltd will cease business at the end of September and we are in the process of terminating all agreements and contracts. This email is notice of termination of our agreement with you. From the beginning of October Washington, DC-based UPI will take over ownership and management of the website www.metimes.com. I am very happy to have worked with you and I will definitely encourage them to take you on“.
The worse-than-lousy — and dishonest — contract I had been obliged to sign had a clause permitting either side could terminate the agreement on seven days notice.
Not one journalist hears this story without blanching, and reacting very strongly. An experienced Israeli real estate agent who I had asked to help find me an apartment said that this was the worst story about moving that she had ever heard (and there are plenty of bad stories about the difficulties of moving here) … And she stopped her efforts to look for a place for me to live.
Interesting that I was notably not informed over the summer, when Grahame Bennett must have known what was being planned — and when I was back in Geneva packing up all my furniture and household possessions for the move, despite correspondence with him over the summer. But I heard not one peep. I would never have made this move had I known what was about to happen.
When the email from Grahame Bennett arrived, all my household goods were in Ashdod Port awaiting customs clearance. Israel, as might be obvious, is not easy. I needed the proper working visa so that I would not have to pay the customs duties and taxes on these used personal possessions, including dishes, clothing, books, and family photos (and no big ticket electrical appliances). With a journalist’s visa, I could post a bank guarantee instead, that would be returned if I left Israel with my belongings. Without it, I had to pay — over 6,000 N.I.S. in taxes alone ($1,500), plus other costs. With a journalist’s visa, I would have also received residency permission. Otherwise — well, it’s a big problem. A very big problem. Not to mention the loss of income. Or the frustration at seeing a good story that would not be published.
Two days later, Grahame Bennett, the managing editor in Cyprus wrote: “I’ll consider what MET can possibly do to help and will get back to you tomorrow or Friday”. He then encouraged me to contact the new editor — Claude Salhani — and said he had told Claude Salhani to expect to hear from me.
I wrote to the “new editor”, Claude Salhani — who had actually suddenly and mysteriously appeared on the masthead as the “new editor” several months earlier — to explain my situation, and my interest in continuing. I wrote that “In fact, I learned about this decision only last Tuesday — after travelling back to Jerusalem (overnight) on Sunday 18 August, following an absence during which I was arranging my move from Geneva. I have now cleared out of Geneva, and all my worldly possessions are in Ashdod port, in the hands of Israeli customs, awaiting clearance. I made this move on the expectation that I would be working for Middle East Times. At no time during the preparations was I advised that any major change, or closure, was in the works“. I also explained to the Claude Salhani that, as it had cost me a lot out-of-pocket to work from Jerusalem in the spring: “To function properly, I would also need some kind of modest but regular income, and some provision for expenses incurred for transportation, communication, and occasional hotel bills”.
Claude Salhani, the “new editor” replied to me: “Dear Marian, I am very sorry to hear about your troubles. I regret that for the moment there’s nothing I can do until we start developing plans for the future of the new look of the Middle East Times. That should come about in mid September. Until then I am unable to give you a reply. Having said that, I cannot promise that there will be many assignments, given that we have already committed to another correspondent whit [sic] whom we have a long history. Again, nothing is written in stone and things are likely to change. I will certainly keep you in mind as we move forward and see what I can do to help“.
Actually, I was the only one accredited for the Middle East Times here.
When I forwarded this message to Grahame Bennett, the managing editor in Cyprus, he replied: “I’ve no idea who this correspondent is – perhaps someone from UPI. MET will be produced by an entirely different company to my Cyprus one and I have no managing control over it” [n.b., as noted above, Grahame Bennett is still listed on the masthead today as managing editor — and he is apparently also a managing director of the company or corporation].
Since then, there has nothing from Middle East Times but defensiveness, and excuses … and accusations. “It is American corporate ruthlessness”, said Grahame Bennett, the man in Cyprus who cut my contract. “You’re American, aren’t you?”
In a subsequent email, he added: “it seems at the moment that they aren’t looking to develop Israel. They especially were not planning to budget a regular income, and phone/hotel expenses you said in the email that you would now need in order to function properly”…
Of course, if a journalist asks to be paid regularly for her work, and asks to be compensated when she spends money to cover a story adequately, she should be cut loose and left stranded, isn’t it obvious — because she has become a “liability”. Needless to say, we’re not talking about a huge amount of money here. This is quite simply shameless abuse and exploitation, 19th century style.
Grahame Bennett added: “In giving background details I did explain your need to leave Geneva was due to your own circumstances and not MET’s requirements, and that I was prepared to assist you in any non-monetary way I could…”
Now, Grahame Bennett has written: “I am very sorry that there are differences between you and new management. I sincerely am sad that this has happened. From my view it’s clear that professionally your services are not required by that new company. … All along the way up to the closure of the MET company in Cyprus you made your decisions, you led all the moves, while I provided you with accreditation support”.
And, he wrote: “Also all along I emphasized that your relationship with MET was as an independent freelance contributor, and that the roles and responsibilities of both sides were defined by that relationship. Having had plenty of freelance experience myself I know I cannot rely on a single publication, or even a handful, but that as a service provider I am solely responsible to set up, protect and manage my own operation. I may be wrong here, but it seems to me that you had put all your eggs in one basket”…
I’m sorry, but an editor has to do better than that — much better than that.
Now, I’ve just discovered that none of my published articles, nor even this little contribution, are any longer available in their archives …
Here is the story as published by Middle East Times in June:
Palestinians fleeing Gaza face closed checkpoints
GAZA CITY, Gaza — “Gaza is not our problem,” an Israeli security source told an Israeli news-site, while hundreds of Palestinians waited at borders into Israel Sunday as international aid officials try to determine how to care for them.
According to Ynetnews Sunday Israel security sources also denied any responsibility for Palestinians trying to flee Gaza.
Meanwhile, a human rights official at the scene predicted a humanitarian emergency.
“We are headed toward a disaster,” said Ibrahim Habib, a field coordinator for Physicians for Human Rights.
Palestinians trying to flee Hamas-controlled Gaza hoped to cross into Israel and then enter the Fatah-dominated West Bank, Ynetnews reported.
Few were being allowed through.
According to Middle East Times’ journalist in Jerusalem, Marian Houk, Palestinian escapees report that Hamas forces are arresting people trapped at the border crossings and Israeli soldiers have fired tear gas at the panicking Palestinians.
There are conflicting reports on how long food, medical, and energy supplies will last in Gaza.
“We know of many injured and sick people who are at the crossings,” Habib said, adding that hospitals in Gaza have been turned into bases for Hamas troops.
This story was originally published here – http://www.metimes.com/storyview.php?StoryID=20070618-055619-4105r
The link to this story from Daylife now brings you, instead, here on the UPI website.