Oct 07 2005

Journalists and the Plague of Identification

Published by at 3:32 am under Articles,Media Activism

By Daoud Kuttab

It has always been a problem for journalists. How to carry on the profession of journalism without being accused of sympathizing with the person you are covering. Ever journalist who covers a conflict can’t help but have some sympathizes for his subject. Internationally famous columnists Tom Friedman once told me that a good journalist always shows his subject that he is genuinely interested in what he is saying. You have to give the person you are interviewing the feeling that you are handing on every word he or she is saying, he explained.

Professional journalists of course have a responsibility of reflecting what their subjects are saying and not what they themselves are thinking. Journalists covering a murder are not murderers, and those interviewing thieves are not criminals. We are simply messengers and therefore we should not be judged by the message, even if it is a very ugly message.


Tayser Allouni is a journalist. His personal thoughts and sympathizes are his right and are protected by the universal declaration of human rights. But for a Spanish court to punish him for appearing to be supportive with Usam Ben Ladin to seven years in prison is wrong and must not be tolerated by defenders of human rights and freedom of expression. This punishment reminds us of the worst days of American Mcarthism or those under the Franco dictatorship.


In the 1980s Abie Nathan an Israeli peace activists who ran the Voice of Peace radio station from the Mediterranean was jailed for six months because his interview with Yaser Arafat in Lebanon was declared a violation of an Israeli law that considered sympathy for the PLO equal to support of a terrorist organization. Peace supporters, including many in Spain , denounced this imprisonment.  



As a Palestinian journalists I have often found myself in having to defend why I am interviewing Israelis. Closed minded Arab nationalists consider such interactions with Israelis tantamount with sleeping with the enemy and attacked me for what they considered “normalization of relations with the Zionists aggressors.”

Journalists are professionals whose main job is to seek the truth and to present all points of view. This is what we try and teach young Arab journalists who are trying to break out of the once closed Arab media. Al Jazzera was a breath of fresh air to supporters of independent media because it provided a badly needed outlet that had been denied Arabs for many years. By presenting both the points of views of governments and that of the opposition, Al Jazzera and the other new media outlets greatly weakened Arab government media monopolizes.

The verdict of the Spanish court must raise the blood pressure of every lover of independent media the world over. Supporters of the freedom of expression and the right of all, including those whose opinions we might not like, must not let this judgment pass. If showing sympathy when interviewing Ben Laden is a crime, one day, the mere sympathy with anyone opposed to the government point of view or that of the majority will become a crime. The model of a tolerant Spain and that of enlightened Europe has been tainted in the eyes of many true Arab democrats. The sooner that this cloud moves away the sooner we can get back to the efforts of getting our governments to respect our rights to produce independent media that reflects the opinions and thoughts of all.


Daoud Kuttab is an award winning Palestinian journalist. He has suffered harassment from both the Israelis and the Palestinians. He is the founder of the Arab world’s fist Internet radio station and the director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Ramallah. His email is info@daoudkuttab.com


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