Muntazer el Zaydi jailed – crime against journalism

March 13, 2009

The jailing of Iraqi journalist Muntazer al Zaidi for throwing his shoes at former US President George W Bush is a crime against journalism.

el-zaydi-main

A hero of Iraq

A poll released today, commissioned by ABC News and the BBC, suggests 62% of Iraqis regard the shoe-thrower as a hero. Twenty-four percent of respondents saw him as a criminal who had assaulted a visiting head of state.

Outside the court, Mohammed Ali, a childhood friend of Zaidi, said: “His act was not a crime but one of defiance. When he is eventually released I expect Muntazer could change his career and become a politician.” The Guardian’s story today.

There’s also a longer profile piece about the reporter, who has become a hero to many Iraqis.

There is an online petition at the Petition Site which is aiming for 1000 signatures. When I signed there were 57 so get on over there and do your bit.

The International Federation of Journalists has condemned the three year sentece as “disproportional”:

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has protested over the disproportionate decision of an Iraqi court which sentenced television journalist Muntadhar al-Zeidi to three years in jail for throwing his shoes at former American president George W. Bush in December last year.

“This sentence is hugely out of proportion,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “The journalist made a serious mistake, but it was something that should have been properly dealt with internally and not brought before the courts at all. The Iraqi response is regrettable and we urge that there is clemency and his sentence is reduced on appeal.” [IFEX Update 12 March]

However, I disagree that Muntazer made a “serious mistake”. He was doing something that millions of us have fantasized about – expressing our hatred of the despotic Bush regime and its war criminal leadership.

Reporters Without Borders has also issued a statement condemning the sentence as harsh:

“We obviously regret that Zaidi chose this way to protest against the President Bush’s policies but there is no justification for this prison sentence,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The sentence is cynical in a country where so many of the people who kill journalists are never brought to justice. We call for his release.”  [Reporters Without Borders]

Sorry, but I don’t share this regret. My regret is that Muntazer is in jail.

There’s a nice post on this at Woolly Days.


Munthadar al Zeidi still in jail

February 6, 2009

The shoe-throwing Iraqi journalist recently celebrated his 30th birthday in jail. According to a recent Huffington Post piece, guards threw a party for him and gave him a cake. I’m sorry to say that apart from this, there’s very little ongoing coverage.

The HP story says Munthadar al Zeidi is waiting the outcome of an appeal to have the serious charges against him downgraded to “insulting”  George Bush.

Meanwhile, I’ve heard there’s a Kiwi connection to Mr al Zeidi and I’m hoping to learn and report more about this soon.

Over at Zimbio there’s a great collection of animated gifs and other material that’s been generated over the Internet in the weeks since the December 2008 incident in Baghdad. [In case you don’t know, al Zeidi an Iraqi TV reporter took off his shoes and hurled them at outgoing president George Dubya Bush during a media conference. In the Arab world throwing shoes is a very heavy insult.]

It’s a pity that the American soldiers involved in this incident, didn’t throw shoes instead of opening fire:

Reporters Without Borders calls on the US military high command to discipline the US soldiers who shot and seriously wounded TV journalist Hadeel Emad yesterday [2nd January 2009] in Baghdad. Emad works as a producer for Beladi TV, owned by former Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari.

“The US military said Emad ignored the orders to stop given by its soldiers but how could she have complied when her hearing is impaired?” Reporters Without Borders said. “An unarmed person’s failure to immediately respond to a warning is anyway not grounds for opening fire on them. We hope Emad recovers quickly from her injuries and we offer her colleagues our sympathy. Above all, we call on the US military to shed light on this disgraceful incident and to adopt the necessary disciplinary measures.”

The incident occurred at a checkpoint jointly manned by US soldiers and Iraqi police in the central Baghdad district of Karada.

According to Beladi TV, the US soldiers initially fired in the air but Emad, 25, did not hear the shots because her hearing is impaired. When she did not heed their warning shots, the soldiers then fired two shots in her directing, hitting her in the chest. She was rushed to a Baghdad hospital where her condition was said to be critical.

Agence France-Presse today quoted a US military spokesman as saying soldiers opened fire on Emad because she was “behaving erratically.” The management of Beladi TV said it wanted to “know the reasons for this criminal act.”


The moral purpose of journalism

January 14, 2009

“We always end up starting with the Israeli side,” said a Japanese television journalist, speaking on the condition of anonymity, “because that’s where we are and that’s what we can see.”

(Christian Science Monitor, 10 January 2009)

The job of the news media is not to try to solve all the world’s problems, but to shake awake the world’s conscience. Good journalism can do that.

(Philip Seib, The Global Journalist, 2002, p.xiv)

I’ve been deliberately staying away from posting my thoughts on the coverage of the present conflict in Gaza; mainly because when I try to watch it on TV I get enormously angry and depressed. I’m also reluctant to say too much because there’s nothing more likely to stir passionate outrage among the dribblejaws than yet another anti-Israel rant.

But I’m now going to dip a toe in these troubled waters. My inspiration to do so comes from a number of sources:

  • The heroic act of shoe-throwing that I’ve covered in a number of posts. I’ve made it clear that I support the actions of the Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zeidi. When he threw his shoes at George W Bush it was a symbolic act of disgust and outrage that had, apparently, been simmering in Muntadhar’s head for some time. It was, in my view, the act of a morally-upstanding person. From the positive reactions globally, it seems that many people agree that Bush deserved it.
  • I’m currently reading Philip Seib’s The Global Journalist: News and Conscience in a World of Conflict, and the book begins with an interesting, though flawed, thesis on the moral responsibilities that journalists carry around in their ethical kitbags.
  • Finally, I think it’s important to defend a political critique of Zionism from accusations of racism and anti-Jewish “hate speech”.

Before you read any further, you need to know that I am a strong supporter of the Palestinians who thinks the state of Israel is an imperialist construct and an outpost of American projected military power in the Middle East. I’ve come to the conclusion that journalists have a moral responsibility to say as much and to predicate all their reporting of the current Gaza conflict, as well as coverage of Iraq, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan and the associated “terror frame” of news analysis on this controversial starting point.

In other words, I believe in what Martin Bell calls the “journalism of attachment”, rather than feeble attempts at objectivity, which is, in and of itself, a form of inbuilt and largely unconscious bias.

Read the rest of this entry »


Shoe-throwing should be an Olympic sport

January 7, 2009

I am loving the way that throwing shoes at things you don’t like has taken off like a cool piece of countercultural viral marketing.

In Ashland, Oregon, on the crazy northwest fringe of the USA, a city councillor and local shit-stirrer has set up an installation in an art gallery with an 8ft caricature of Dubya and has been hurling shoes at it. Members of the public were encouraged to have a go. It looks like fun.

I’m all in favour of modern art with a purpose. It seems Eric Navickas is a bit of a maverick, even in these maverick parts of the US.

Meanwhile, the trial of Muntadhar al-Zeidi, the Iraqi journalist who started the shoe-throwing craze by actually throwing his shoes at George W Bush in Baghdad a few weeks ago, has been postponed.


I agree with Rosemary

December 28, 2008

Well, the shoe-throwing Iraqi journalist has certainly sparked a lot of interest worldwide. Opinion is divided about whether or not his actions are legitimate, or beyond the journalist’s ethical pale.
In this weekend’s Sunday Star Times, columnist Rosemary McLeod says that 29 year-old reporter, Muntadar al-Zeidi, is her “man of the year”.

That might be a step too far for some, but Rosemary’s column lays out some interesting 21st century ethical principles and acknowledges that reporters do have opinions and also a right to express them.

Read the rest of this entry »


A kiss goodbye from an Iraqi journalist

December 16, 2008

Shuddering back to life.

An Iraqi journalist, Muntadar al-Zeidi [Muntazer Zaidi] , 28, was arrested after throwing his shoes at Mr Bush during a press conference with Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister. Mr Bush ducked twice as the shoes narrowly missed his head and hit the wall behind him. [Read story in The Telegraph]

I just saw the footage on the BBC news, it was a narrow miss, just over the top of Bush’s head. Now Muntadar is in jail and is to be prosecuted under Iraqi law. This is not good news I fear.

There are calls for Muntadar to be released, his individual protest – throwing shoes is an effective insult – was against the background of other protests against Bush’s visit to Baghdad.

The local network, Al-Baghdadia, where Muntadar worked,  issued a statement demanding Zaidi’s release “in line with the democracy and freedom of expression that the American authorities promised the Iraqi people.”

“Any measures against Muntazer will be considered the acts of a dictatorial regime,” it added.

According to AFP, Saddam Hussein’s former lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi said he was forming a team to defend Zaidi and that around 200 lawyers, including Americans, had offered their services for free.

“It was the least thing for an Iraqi to do to Bush, the tyrant criminal who has killed two million people in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Dulaimi.

“Our defence of Zaidi will be based on the fact that the United States is occupying Iraq, and resistance is legitimate by all means, including shoes.”

Zaidi’s colleagues in Baghdad, where he had worked for three years, said he had long been planning to throw shoes at Bush if ever he got the chance.

The Iraqi authorities are not likely to see the funny side of this incident. Muntadar faces a charge of insulting a visiting head of state, which carries two-year jail term.

The whole idea of such an offence is ridiculous and shows clearly how bankrupt the claims of the US and UK and Iraqi regimes that there’s any semblence of democracy on the ground in Iraq.

Bush brushed off the insult, but it’s interesting that al-Zeidi got so close and was able to hurl both shoes with some accuracy and flair before being taken down.

I guess there’s a fairly standard argument that a journalist should not get so emotionally involved in a story that they let their anger get in the way. According to some news accounts, Muntadar had planned the “attack” for some time. He clearly bears a grudge and felt a need to express it.

It goes beyond the bounds of acceptable ethical behaviour that you’d expect from journalists, though there are memorable incidents, even if a little milder, of journalists getting too emotionally involved at news conferences and hurling abuse.

Press conferences are usually expected to be civilised affairs, Al-Zeidi reportedly works for a small independent TV station in Baghdad, I wonder if he’s done any units in ethics during whatever training he might have had.

It also points to the emotional tensions the can sometimes bubble to the surface when reporters are working under stressful conditions like Baghdad and Iraq today.