Western correspondents and newspapers continue to apply double standards when it comes to covering the Israeli-Arab conflict.

It is much easier for a Western journalist to sit in Israel and write about Israel without having to worry about his or her safety. Why bother travel to an Arab country and risk being arrested or deported for writing a story that reflects negatively on the dictatorship there?

Besides, who said it's that easy to enter an Arab or Islamic country? The foreign reporters need an entry visa to most of these countries - a process that could last for weeks, months and years.

And when the foreign reporters arrives in an Arab capital, he or she are often escorted by "minders" of the Ministry of Information of that country. Then there are the mukhabarat [intelligence] agents who start following the reporters from the minute they arrive and until they leave.

Those who are found "guilty" of writing a story that angers the Arab dictator or any of his confidants should forget about applying for another visa.

Otherwise, how does one explain the fact that the mainstream media in the US, Canada and Europe are turning a blind eye to recent developments in Jordan, where the government has introduced a law that restricts media freedom?

The arrest last week of seven Palestinian university lecturers at the hands of Palestinian Authority security services in the West Bank is yet another example of how the international media functions in this part of the world.

Some Palestinian stringers and reporters offered the story about the arrest of the academics to at least a dozen foreign correspondents and newspaper editors in North America and Europe.

Only one foreign journalist agreed to write about the story. His colleagues gave different excuses for turning their backs on the story.

Some said they were concerned about their personal safety should they report a news item that was likely to anger the Western-funded PA security forces in the West Bank.

Others simply blamed their editors in New York, Paris, London and Toronto for turning down the story as "insignificant."

Earlier this week, a disenchanted Ramallah-based Palestinian journalist decided to put her Western colleagues to the test. She contacted the same group of newsmen and editors who had been offered the story on the academics' arrest with a "new idea" for a news item.

The Palestinian journalist proposed that the foreign press write about a Palestinian university professor who complained that Israeli authorities had turned down his request to visit Israel together with his wife and three children.

The response from the international journalists came almost instantly. All but two said it was a "great story" and expressed readiness to start working on it immediately.

It is worth noting that the Palestinian Authority's General Intelligence Service had warned Palestinian journalists and university staff members not to report about the detention of the academics. Of course the Palestinian media in the West Bank, which is controlled by the Palestinian Authority, complied.

The Palestinian authorities even threatened the president of the university not to complain about the arrest of his lecturers. He too complied, and even went as far as to switch off his mobile phone to avoid questions from journalists.

One can only imagine the reaction of the international media had the Palestinian academics been arrested by Israel.

The double-standards approach of the international media is not a new phenomenon. Back in the mid-1990's, many Western correspondents based in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv refused to publish stories about bad government, abuse of human rights and rampant financial corruption under Yasser Arafat's administration.

This hypocritical approach on the part of the media does not only apply to the Palestinians, but to most of the Arab world.

Of course there is no shortage of "great stories" in the Arab world. But for those Western journalists who justify their actions -- or, rather, inaction -- by citing security concerns, the answer is should be: If you are scared, why don't you stop writing about the conflict and start reporting about the weather or environment?

The Middle East is not the right place for journalists who care more about their well-being than the facts and the truth.

Editor's Note: Khaled Abu Toameh's columns will now appear on Tuesdays and Fridays

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