Ghannouchi vs Fisk

Head of Islamist Ennahdha Party to File Suit Against “The Independent”

Sana Ajmi in Tunisialive:

Rached Ghannouchi, leader of Tunisia’s moderate Islamist Ennahdha party, stated yesterday that he intends to sue the British newspaper The Independent for publishing false information about his party.

In his article entitled, “We believe that the USA is the major player against Syria and the rest are its instruments,” Robert Fisk quoted Walid Muallem, foreign minister to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as saying that the Emir of Qatar, Hamad ben Khalifa Al Thani, issued orders to pay Ennahdha $150 million to help Ghannouchi’s party in the elections.

Ghannouchi denied the news during a press conference held yesterday and announced that he plans to sue The Independent for publishing inaccurate information.

“Robert Fisk is a respectable man, but in his article he published false news. These are serious accusations, and we are going to sue the newspaper for publishing that,” said the Ennahdha leader.

One thing Ghannouchi learned in his long years of London exile, apparently, is that the UK is a good place to get litigious. Even if, as in this case, it was not Fisk saying he received money from Qatar (something many Tunisians seem to believe) but Muallem saying it. Can you really sue a paper because an official quoted gave an maliciously inaccurate statement? 

Dining with al-Qaeda

I've just started reading Hugh Pope's journalistic memoirs, Dining with al-Qaeda. It's really good fun so far, and the second chapter — covering Pope's first job with UPI in Beirut — has a great story of his disenchantment with Robert Fisk, who always magically had more exciting stories than anyone else. His secret: he made them up. Pope went to great length later on to investigate claims by Fisk, in his Independent reporting and in his magnum opus, about Turkish "starving" of Kurds that nearly got the Independent banned there and caused Turkish authorities to blow a gasket, almost kicking Pope (a lowly stringer for the Indie) out of the country. He's calls all this "Fiskery" — others call it Fisking, especially when Fisk goes after individuals — and while he's not bitter about it there's a real sense of disappointment that Fisk jeopardizes his position of authority and emotional power on these made-up stories. He writes:

Fisk's writings, more than almost anyone else's, manages to step around the cautious conventions of Middle Eastern reporting and drive home at an emotional level the injustices of the dictators and the cruel side of U.S. policies  But facts are facts, indispensable legitimizing agents of readers' emotional and political responses. 

The thing is, Fisk's over-active imagination makes it easy for Pope to find holes in his reporting, for instance when Fisk refers to getting onboard an Apache helicopter even though they don't have passenger seats. If you hang around journalists with several decades of Middle East experience, particularly ones who were in Beirut in the 1980s, you keep hearing these stories again and again about Fisk. It's a great, great shame that this otherwise powerful writer keeps on doing that.

In any case, do pick up this book, especially if you have an interest either in foreign correspondents in the Middle East. I'll do a proper review later, but I see that the Economist loved it (and if you read the review, you'll note a mea culpa about the paper's support for the Iraq war at the bottom).

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