Sunday, May 31, 2009

Access vs Honest Reporting

An Open Letter to Amnesty International
05/29/09 - National Review by Michael Rubin

[edited] Eason Jordan is the chief news executive at CNN. After the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, he wrote "The News We Kept to Ourselves" about the balance between access and honest reporting. That balance affects many other fields as well. Autocratic regimes control visas (access) to influence reporting and other activities.

Journalists report from southern Lebanon under Hezbollah's eye, and from Gaza under the control of Hamas minders. Their reporting is followed. Crossing certain lines is a matter of life-and-death.

Untenured academics need access to country-based resources for their study of Iran, Chechnya, North Korea, or China. They will not acquire visas should their writing displease those governments. Without visas, they cannot do more research to compete for tenure.

The same is true for human-rights organizations. Their pronouncements are often taken at face-value by news outlets. In reality, they are intensely compromised organizations, often putting organizational interests above mission.

Fathi El Jahmi was Libya's most prominent dissident. He died this week while detained at the Tripoli Medical Centre since July 2007. His brother Mohamed El Jahmi wrote to Irene Khan, secretary general of Amnesty International. He asks whether Amnesty's desire to operate inside Libya led it to self-censor criticism of El Jahmi's detention and death.

Mohamed El Jahmi wrote:

[excerpt] Your organization received independent confirmation that Fathi was in very bad condition. While Fathi was in Jordan, Amnesty and other organizations were denied access to Fathi. Qadhafi’s regime has consistently objected to releasing Fathi’s medical record, why would it consider Amnesty’s gentle request now?.

For many months, the Qadhafi regime kept your organization neutralized – you couldn’t issue a press release because the regime was holding the access carrot in front of your eyes. You got your access and betrayed Fathi.

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