CAIRO: As I watched Fox News’s online video promotions preceding coverage of Michael Jackson’s sudden death, the irony of it all hit me:
“We report without spin, without an agenda, without bias, goes the voice over, “we report all sides on all the issues; and the topics that mainstream media’s afraid to tackle . Balanced and accurate reporting so you can make the choice. On Fox News we report, you decide.
This is the same “no spin, “no bias website that on June 16 described Former President Jimmy Carter as “a chief defender of the US-designated terror group (not very flattering in the US context) because he urged the Obama administration to remove Hamas from the terrorist list.
Accuracy, balance and impartiality are, without a doubt, in the eye of the beholder.
Which brings us to the shameful performance of popular talk show host of “Al-Qahera Al-Youm Amr Adib earlier this week.
But first, a disclaimer: I do not believe that the level of media freedom in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world is anywhere near where it should be.
That said, no one can deny that the communication revolution and satellite TV have raised the threshold of what can or cannot be tackled by the media, with Adib’s daily Orbit channel show setting a trend in inleashing previously taboo debates.
But with freedom, comes great responsibility, a responsibility Adib miserably failed to demonstrate in his take on the false allegations made about Egypt’s national football team in South Africa.
In his Sunday June 21 episode, Adib not only flouted every conceivable code of media ethics, but also bordered on the criminal act of slander by openly promoting tabloid reports that appeared in the South African press suggesting that five members of the Egyptian team had brought back prostitutes to their hotel rooms.
The five South African papers had run the story in the context of the previously reported theft of $2,400 from the rooms of five of the players, claiming that it was the five prostitutes they had brought back who stole the money.
Granted, as a news show host Adib has every right to discuss any news that is of public interest. What his job does not give him the right do, however, is to pass summary judgments or to repeat a defamatory statement without getting his facts straight – which is precisely what he did.
The unprofessional and unethical way in which he conducted the 45-minute segment to discuss our bitter 3-0 loss against the US on June 21was blatantly slanderous.
Even though he tried to spin it as “fair comment when it was later revealed that the entire story was completely fabricated, this defense does not apply in his case.
In a chapter titled “How Much Protection? in McNea’s “Essential Law for Journalists (18th edition), the author writes: “If you assert that the man has been guilty of disgraceful conduct and do not state what that conduct was, this is an allegation of fact for which there is no defense other than truth or privilege.it is no use going to court and saying: ‘This comment would have been fair if we had not been misinformed.’ The only acceptable defense is: ‘The facts are true and the comment upon those facts is fair.’
Within this framework, Adib would have no protection against slander charges in a court of law. He possessed no hard evidence to reinforce his belief in the defamatory South African news reports. Even worse, he based his personal judgment on the players’ behavior on a photograph of player Mohamed Zidan in a public place which shows him standing next to a woman, and (God forbid) wearing a t-shirt with a picture of skulls on it.
All of a sudden Adib became the guardian of religious morals, repeatedly cutting off Zidan, who had phoned in, telling him off for being photographed with “girls and reminding him that he can’t do that because his name is “Mohamed.
The most surreal moment was when, incited by Zidan’s criticism of his take on the allegations, Adib proceeded to read out and translate the defamatory article on air in an act more informed by his frustration with Egypt’s loss against the US, than for any deep-rooted commitment to safeguard the public interest.
Capitalizing on the public’s disappointment, he went as far as twisting the facts.
He claimed that the BBC – which enjoys a lot of credibility in Egypt – had also reported the story to justify what he was doing. But this was entirely untrue.
In fact, on Friday June 19 (one day after Egypt’s historic victory over Italy), the BBC reported that “Local police are investigating the theft of some $2,400 from the rooms of five unnamed players.The cash was taken while the Pharaohs were beating World Cup winners Italy 1-0 on Thursday in a Confederations Cup group match.
BBC Sport also reported that Thembi Nkhwashu, a spokesperson for the Gauteng South African Police Services, said, “Five players have reported a case of theft, with the total sums lost amounting to $2,400. .The period when the money could have disappeared is from the time they left the hotel for the match until this morning when we were notified.
The report contradicts what Adib was stating as fact (based on the South Africa tabloids) that the theft took place while the team was celebrating their victory a day before the US game.
Adib also tried to push his own judgment across by claiming that the team didn’t even report the theft (implying that they wanted to cover up the real story of how the money was stolen), which is a completely false claim as evidenced by the fact that the BBC report that ran on June 19 covered the Egyptian team s press conference about the theft.
Out of courtesy and to support South Africa, the hosts of the next World Cup, as the BBC reported, the Egyptians didn’t want to make a big fuss so as not to embarrass the local organizing committee.
As one viewer called in to say, the smear campaign against our national team reminded him of how Uday, the late son of Saddam Hussein, used to punish the Iraqi football team when they lost an important game. “He would shave their heads and exile them in a concentration camp in the middle of the desert for a month, said the man.
What Amr Adib did was much worse. He has shamed all those who aspire for a truly free media in this region with his arrogance and self-righteousness.
Rania Al Malky is the Chief Editor of Daily News Egypt.