The world and the media have been preoccupied in the past few days with the ‘Wikileaks’ documents. These leaked government cables were considered purely an American scandal, but please…today we have our own scandal! From reading the documents published in the western press, and then comparing them with the translations published in some Arab newspapers, it is surprising that some Arab media outlets are committing forgery, rather than mere selective editing (the media is selective by nature). Some statements have been attributed to the wrong people, and attitudes have been distorted.
The matter does not end here; indeed some Iranian news agencies have entered the scene in their own way. One such agency attributed a statement to a Saudi diplomat, saying that he completely rejected the leaked information from the U.S. government cables. Of course, this news was picked up by some Arab newspapers and websites, and this inevitably serves the objectives of Iran in the region. This is what I always call the process of ‘laundering the news’, where news is published first on an Iranian website, and soon you find it has spread like wildfire, and then God help those who want to deny or correct it.
The day before yesterday, the ‘Mehr’ Iranian news agency attributed quotes to the Saudi Charge d’Affaires in Tehran, saying that he refuted Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz’s reported statements about Iran in the ‘Wikileaks’ documents. The agency added that the Saudi Charge d’Affaires, revealed as Fouad al-Qassas, had denied all information revealed in the documents, in its entirety. This news was immediately picked up by pro-Iranian newspapers.
For me, this was a confusing matter, because I have a good relationship with the Saudi diplomat Fouad al-Qassas, and I know that he left his post in Tehran several months ago, after a Saudi Ambassador was appointed there, and he has now begun work in Riyadh. I contacted Mr. Fouad al-Qassas to inquire about this, and he was surprised, saying: “I did not speak with anyone, nor did I declare anything. I have no connection with the Saudi Embassy in Tehran. Currently, I am beginning my work in the ministry in Riyadh, and there is a Saudi Ambassador in Tehran by the name of Muhammad ibn Abbas al-Kalabi!”
There is an interesting fact that ‘Mehr’ news agency should take note of. It is diplomatic custom to appoint a Charge d’Affaires in the absence of an Ambassador, and it is well known, and well documented, that the Saudi Ambassador to Iran was inaugurated by the Iranian President on the 14th of June 2010!
This story is only the tip of the iceberg, and it is clear that some Arab media distorts and forges the information it receives. We are dealing with 250,000 documents here.
So, who is going to double check the source materiel and be accountable?
This brings up a story worth mentioning. At the beginning of my journalism career, I was asked by an editor of a newspaper I was working for to come up with a front page headline relating to Osama bin Laden. I told him directly that I was not familiar with the information mentioned in the story, to which he laughed and said “a man once told a group of friends that there are exactly a million stars in the sky. Puzzled, they asked him how he knew? The man replied “count them”. The Editor looked at me smiling and said “who’s going to check…publish and let’s sell newspapers!”
It seems that the Arab media still works this way, unfortunately.