Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Fate of Journalists Addicted to a Single Subject Matter | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page

In 1944, when Mustafa Amin, a prominent Egyptian journalist, published the weekly “Akhbr Al Yawm” (Today’s news) his sole aim was to damage Mustafa al Nahas, then leader of the Wafd Party. In a series of articles, he examined the relationship between King Faruk and the Wafd Party, but was intelligent enough not to use the newspaper for this purpose only. Writing with his brother on a variety of topics, Amin also employed prominent writers and professional journalists who were less keen on constantly criticizing Nahas, such as Tawfiq al Hakim and Ibrahim al Mazini. Amin was the most famous investigative reporter and celebrated critic of the 1940s in Egypt .

The journalist who becomes addicted to a single subject matter narrows the platform on which he can address public opinion, especially if he works for a particular political party or institution that offers him monetary support. “Akhbar al Yawm” succeeded as a professional newspaper due to the prominence of its writers and the talent of Amin, with his original ideas. However, the constant focus of Amin and his caricaturist, Mohammed Abdel Moneim Rakha, on defaming al Nahhas also hurt the celebrated journalist and dealt a crushing blow to his political aspirations. Realizing his error, Amin later withdrew from politics, refrained from running for Parliament, and suspended his activities in the Saadist Party, formed in 1938 by dissidents from the Wafd Party.

Journalism resembles a very jealous wife who doesn’t accept that politics share her husband, the writer or journalist. On the contrary, the politician has the right and the freedom to commit himself to a single issue all his life. Politics is essentially the practice of an opinion and a standpoint, regardless of the occasional opportunism we witness. Politics can, perhaps, also be defined as a commitment to an immutable principle, belief, or ideology.

Journalism, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter, as it concerns itself with changing political, cultural, and economic realities. Therefore, the more the journalist frees himself from political interests and maintains his independence from the centers of power, especially those hidden from the public, such as the intelligence services, the more he will benefit from the public’s trust, be seen as objective, and better serve his newspaper.

In the Arab World, I can think of many of political leaders who lost their lives or their careers because they were dedicated to one cause. I can also give the example of a number of journalists and professional writers who died because of mistakenly clinging to a single issue during their careers and serving a political cause. In Lebanon , during the 1950s, the journalist Nasib al Matni was killed because of his constant attacks on President Camille Shamun. He was an unpopular president; however, al Matni’s bravery harmed his profession, when he targeted Shamun daily in his newspaper.

Similarly, Kamel Mroueh was an excellent journalist writing for the widely read “Al Hayat” paper. His addiction to criticizing Egyptian leader Jamal Abdel Nasser meant he lost his objectivity and his editorials ceased to be rational and informative. The pro- Nasser mob became very angry and assassinated him at his desk, in 1965. The murder undermined Nasser , as he had found criticism from a journalist using the might of his pen unbearable. In 1980, another prominent politician and a great journalist lost their lives. SAalah al Bitar and Salim al Louzi were killed as a consequence of their constant attacks on a certain regime. Throughout my life, I haven’t known a journalist as brave as Louzi, who dare to speak against previously untouchable figures. I last saw him in London , paying his respects to his late mother, not realizing he was going to be next, a few days later. His corpse was discovered dumped in a forest, in Lebanon , with his skin and flesh pealed off the hand and finger he wrote with.

As for al Bitar, he became a target when his weekly magazine “Al Ihya Al Arabi” (the Arab revival), published in Paris , devoted its pages to criticizing the Syrian regime. He became a victim because his writings made him appear as an alternative to those in power, at a time when the regime was facing opposition from the trade unions, the liberal current, and the Muslim Brotherhood.

I want to turn my attention, at this point, to examining the heinous assassination of Samir Qassir earlier this month. For that, it is necessary to ask ourselves a question which has been confusing me for some time. Why would a journalist and successful public relations professional dedicate his life, his efforts, and his pen to a single political case and attack Syria ?

I leave the reader to conclude by offering a glimpse into the life of the slain Lebanese journalist. He was an Orthodox Christian of Palestinian origin who held Lebanese and French nationality. A successful academic, he earned a PhD in History and Political Science from the Sorbonne University , in Paris . He worked in at the Palestinian Studies Review in Paris and quickly rose to upper circles of the French media.

Why did Qassir return to Lebanon in 1994, after his successes as a journalist and a university professor in Paris ? Did he receive encouragement to harass the Syrian regime? HE soon started working as an editor for al Nahar newspaper, a bastion of anti Syrian sentiment. Opposition to authorities in any country is no shame. However, a journalist’s credibility diminishes when his dedication to slandering a certain government turns into an obsession, to the degree where he loses his objectivity.

Let us ask ourselves another question: for whose benefit was Qassir’s continuous political criticism which was replete with malice and provocation? Had the murdered journalist become too close to some in the anti-Syrian camp that he endangered the security of the regime in Damascus ? I have no answers to offer and do not wish to accuse the journalist either. Let the readers be the judge.

Finally, I would like to correct my mistake at the beginning of this article, and apologise for the innocent emotions expressed in the Arab media when it reported the case, without delving deeper into the slain journalists’ motives and goals.

Perhaps this is due to the media’s honourable desire to condemn this horrible killing, which no one deserves, even if, in Qassir’s case, the journalist had put himself at the intersection of dangerous and competing currents, which are incapable of communicating with one another, or even grudgingly accepting a journalist who committed a professional error by dedicating himself to a single topic.