Tel Aviv, Asharq Al-Awsat – Al-Jazeera television station has admitted to “unethical” behavior in its coverage of the release of convicted Hezbollah terrorist, Samir Kuntar, from an Israeli prison following a prisoner exchange deal with the Lebanese militant group.
The Arabic news channel’s public acknowledgement came as a response to an avalanche of Israeli criticism and a threat issued by the Government Press Office (GPO) to boycott Al-Jazeera news channel as a response to the program it aired last month. The controversial program broadcasted footage of the homecoming celebration and birthday party held for Kuntar upon his return in which he was hailed a “pan-Arab hero”.
Wadah Khanfar, Director General of Al-Jazeera issued an official letter in which he wrote that “elements of the program [of the celebration last 19 July] violated [the station’s] Code of Ethics.” Khanfar added that he “regards these violations as very serious,” moreover stating that he had taken steps to ensure that the incident does not recur.
Daniel Seaman, head of the GPO, which issues press certification to foreign and local journalists, said that he had summoned Walid al Omary, the head of Al-Jazeera television, to his office on Wednesday to see “what attitude” the channel was adopting towards the incident. Al-Jazeera satellite channel has a Jerusalem-based bureau. The GPO often intercedes when journalists complain of problems related to Israeli bureaucracy.
Although he later praised Al-Jazeera staff for its professionalism, Seaman said that the statement did not go far enough. “It’s not what I’m looking for, he said, “I don’t want an apology,” and added that the GPO would not revoke the channel’s press credentials but would no longer go out of its way to extend courtesy services, including providing assistance in obtaining speedy visas for the Arabic news channel’s employees.
Seaman stated that he wanted the news channel to decide whether it wanted to be a mouthpiece for the Arab world or a professional media outlet and “they will be treated accordingly,” he said.
Samir Kuntar was convicted of the murder of four Israelis, including two children, following a terrorist attack in Nahariya in 1979. In the controversial program aired by Al-Jazeera, Kuntar is seen dressed in army fatigues as he is welcomed into a garden with an Arabic music band, sparklers and a huge cake decorated with pictures of the released convict.
Kuntar is seen praising his picture with Hezbollah Secretary-General, Hassan Nasrallah, and said, “This is the most beautiful picture – with Hassan Nasrallah. There cannot be anything more beautiful – me and the Secretary-General – the most beautiful picture of me ever taken.”*
Kuntar then slices the cake with a sword, which the show’s host hails as “the sword of Arabs”. As he begins to cut the cake, the TV anchor can be heard saying, “Don’t cut the picture, cut on the side.”
* Translation provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).