Probe by rights groups, wire services finds Israeli attack on journalists in Lebanon was likely to have been intentional

The camera that belonged to Reuters journalist Issam Abdallah, who was killed on Oct. 13, is displayed during a press conference. (Reuters)
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Updated 08 December 2023
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Probe by rights groups, wire services finds Israeli attack on journalists in Lebanon was likely to have been intentional

  • Evidence suggests that the military had knowledge that the individuals were civilians
  • Intentionally targeting civilians is a war crime

LONDON: Investigations by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse have found that an Israeli attack on Oct. 13 was likely to have been a deliberate assault by the Israel Defense Forces on civilians, which is a war crime.

The attack killed journalist Issam Abdallah, from Reuters, and injured six others including Carmen Joukhadar and Elie Brakhya from Al Jazeera; Dylan Collins and Christina Assi from AFP; and Thaer al-Sudani and Maher Nazeh from Reuters. 

The reports include witness testimony and are based on analysis of videos, audio, munition remnants, and satellite imagery verified by the organizations, as well as multiple interviews with officials and civilians.

Aya Majzoub, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said: “Our investigation into the incident uncovers chilling evidence pointing to an attack on a group of international journalists who were carrying out their work by reporting on hostilities.

“Direct attacks on civilians and indiscriminate attacks are absolutely prohibited by international humanitarian law and can amount to war crimes.”

The findings are in line with the Committee to Protect Journalists’ report “Deadly Pattern,” published in May, which showed lethal force by the Israel Defense Forces had left 20 journalists dead over the last 22 years, without any accountability.

The CPJ said it welcomed the four reports and “reiterates its call for an immediate, independent, and transparent investigation that holds the perpetrators to account.”

Ramzi Kaiss, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: “This is not the first time that Israeli forces have apparently deliberately attacked journalists, with deadly and devastating results.”

The attack on Oct. 13 occurred at around 6 p.m. The group of journalists had gathered as early as 4:45 p.m. in a clearing on a hilltop in Alma Al-Shaab, to film ongoing fighting on Lebanon’s southern border with Israel.

Journalists from Al Jazeera had conducted two live TV reports, the first at 4:55 p.m. and the second at 5:24 p.m., from the same location. 

Live transmissions by Reuters and AFP were also broadcast on air by several television stations during that period. 

The journalists had remained stationary for over 75 minutes before they were hit, and none of the evidence indicated the presence of any military target near the journalists.

All seven journalists were wearing helmets and blue ballistic vests with labels that said “PRESS,” and were clearly identifiable as journalists.

Footage also shows the group wearing the clearly marked vests and helmets in the same area, near a car marked with “TV” in large letters on its hood.

Five cameras belonging to journalists indirectly captured the attack and its aftermath, shedding light on how the attack was carried out and from where.

Evidence reviewed by the organizations indicates that the Israeli military knew or should have known that the people they were firing on were civilians.

The journalists interviewed said that the first attack struck Abdallah, killing him instantly, and badly injuring photojournalist Assi. 

Just 37 seconds later, the car owned by Al Jazeera was engulfed in flames and destroyed by a second attack, resulting in more injuries to journalists.  

Majzoub said: “Under international humanitarian law, parties to a conflict have a clear obligation to protect civilians, including journalists, and must at all times distinguish between civilians and civilian objects on one hand and fighters and military objectives on the other.”

HRW asserted that “warring parties are obligated to take all feasible precautions to avoid harm to civilians” and must “verify that targets are military objectives.”

It also suggested that Israel’s key allies, Germany, Canada, the US and the UK, “should suspend military assistance and arms sales to Israel, given the real risk that they will be used to commit grave abuses.”

Kaiss said: “The evidence strongly suggests that Israeli forces knew or should have known that the group that they were attacking were journalists.

“This was an unlawful and apparently deliberate attack on a very visible group of journalists.”


Media leaders discuss content, entertainment, news at FII Priority Summit

Updated 23 February 2024
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Media leaders discuss content, entertainment, news at FII Priority Summit

MIAMI: The Future Investment Initiative Priority Summit in Miami brought together experts from various facets of the media industry on Friday for a panel discussion titled “Captivated by Content: How Brands are Adapting to Trends in Media Consumption.”

The key for any media owner is knowing their audience, but that audience is constantly evolving.

Sam Englebardt, founding general partner of Galaxy Interactive who has been a key investor in the gaming industry, said: “It used to be that we were catering to younger males … and now it’s pretty much the whole world.”

One of the problems with understanding audiences is doing so through data, said Bob Pittman, chairman and CEO of iHeartMedia.

“We’re entering this era of tyranny of the data,” he said, adding that the idea that if you cannot measure something it does not exist is a delusion.

As technology has become more pervasive, said Englebardt, “it’s now more possible than ever to really be everywhere they (audiences) are on whichever platform they have, so what are you going to make that people are going to care about, and how do you build a world that they want to spend conceivably all of their time in?”

However, it can be detrimental if people spend more time in virtual worlds than in the real one.

John Hanke, founder and CEO of mobile apps firm Niantic, is focused on building immersive experiences powered by augmented reality.

As a parent of three, he has struggled with determining how much screen time is acceptable for them, he said.

“It was the thing that motivated me to start thinking about video games that can take place out in the world,” he added.

“It’s up to us to think about how we evolve that technology to help us be better humans and be out in the world interacting with one another, and thankfully, technology is headed in that direction with augmented reality wearable devices.”

The worlds of media and entertainment are starting to exist outside screens, and brands, of course, want a spot.

Before streaming services launched, brands would have 30-second spots between shows and movies, but now they want to be part of the “content conversation where they want to subsidize and really have an engagement that goes beyond what a 30-second spot would be,” said Brent Montgomery, founder and CEO of Wheelhouse.

However, technology does not necessarily have to reinvent or create new business models, said Englebardt. “It’s just (about) how technology can enable what we know works to be applied,” he added.

The emergence of these technologies has also transformed news media, where non-traditional platforms such as user-generated content on Instagram and X have become news sources.

The fundamental change, Pittman said, is consumer convenience. “What people want today is have the information find me. I don’t want to go find the information,” he added.

While that can be both good and bad, media companies have to think about “chasing the consumer, as opposed to expecting them to come to you,” Pittman said.

It is becoming harder to distinguish between real and fake content, leading to a point where audiences will have to presume that everything they watch and hear is fake, said Englebardt.

That, however, is the advantage of news brands, because they are well-trusted and audiences can rely on them to vet the information and present genuine news, said Pittman.

In order to maintain that trust, news brands “will have to forego the clickbait business model and opportunity to monetize fake news,” said Englebardt. 

Pittman said: “Clickbait is directly related to lack of trust. The more clickbait, the less trusted.” As such, businesses have to choose whether they want to get more clicks and be less trusted, or have fewer clicks and be more trusted, he concluded.

 


Vice to lay off hundreds of staff, close website

Updated 23 February 2024
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Vice to lay off hundreds of staff, close website

  • Company is ‘no longer cost-effective and will transition to studio model’: CEO 
  • Unclear how decision will impact group’s presence in Riyadh

LONDON: Vice Media is set to lay off hundreds of staff and discontinue publication on its website.

An internal memo leaked to the media and later confirmed by Vice CEO Bruce Dixon said that the layoffs would begin early next week.

Dixon announced on Friday that the company is transitioning to a “studio model,” in a decision that was “not made lightly.” Affected employees will be “notified about next steps early next week.”

The decision is a result of Vice Media’s digital content distribution no longer being cost-effective, Dixon said.

The outlet will “look to partner with established media companies to distribute our digital content, including news, on their global platforms, as we fully transition to a studio model,” he added.

Dixon said that Refinery29, a Vice-owned women’s lifestyle-focused site, will continue to operate independently.

“Our financial partners are supportive and have agreed to invest in this operating model going forward. We will emerge stronger and more resilient as we embark on this new phase of our journey,” he added.

Reports of the layoffs come less than a year after Vice Media, whose assets include Vice News, Motherboard, Refinery29, i-D and Vice TV, was rescued from bankruptcy by a consortium of buyers from Fortress Investment Group.

Dixon said that the group is in “advance discussions” to sell its business and expects to “announce more on that in the coming weeks.”

Valued at $5.7 billion in 2017, Vice, once a prominent media company geared toward a younger audience, operated digital, television and film outlets.

In January last year, the media group announced the opening of a new regional office in Riyadh in an effort to expand its presence in the Middle East.

It remains unclear how the layoffs will impact the group’s presence in the Middle East. Experts say that the company employs about 900 people across all divisions.


Israel threatens to withdraw from Eurovision over song’s lyrics

Updated 24 February 2024
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Israel threatens to withdraw from Eurovision over song’s lyrics

  • European Broadcasting Union assessing whether ‘October Rain’ breaches guidelines on political neutrality
  • There have been protests over Israel’s participation in various European countries

LONDON: Israel has threatened to pull out of the Eurovision Song Contest after organizers said they were assessing the lyrics of its entry for political messages.

The song, “October Rain,” is set to be performed by singer Eden Golan at the event in Sweden in May.

It features references to the victims of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, including the lyrics “they were all good children, each one of them,” according to Israel Hayom newspaper.

The European Broadcasting Union, which organizes the event, said in a statement: “The EBU is currently in the process of scrutinizing the lyrics, a process which is confidential between the EBU and the broadcaster until a final decision has been taken.

“If a song is deemed unacceptable for any reason, broadcasters are then given the opportunity to submit a new song or new lyrics.”

In response, Israel’s national broadcaster KAN, which oversaw the process of selecting the entry and will show the contest in Israel, said: “It should be noted that as far as the Israeli Broadcasting Corporation is concerned there is no intention to replace the song.

“This means that if it is not approved by the European Broadcasting Union, Israel will not be able to participate in the competition, which will take place in Sweden next May.”

KAN confirmed that the lyrics published by Israel Hayom are correct, calling the song a “moving and powerful ballad.”

It also published other lyrics, including the lines “Who told you boys don’t cry / Hours and hours / And flowers / Life is not a game for the cowards,” which Israel Hayom said is a reference to Israeli soldiers. 

KAN said Israeli Culture Minister Miki Zohar had written to the EBU to insist the song’s lyrics be approved, adding that “Israel is in one of its most complex periods, and that this fact cannot be ignored when choosing a song to represent it.”

On X, Zohar said: “The song of Israel, which will be performed by Eden Golan, is a moving song, which expresses the feelings of the people and the country these days, and is not political."

He said any decision to disqualify “October Rain” would be “scandalous.”

“We all hope that Eurovision will remain a musical and cultural event and not a political arena — where the participating countries can bring their uniqueness and nationalism to the stage through music.

“I call on the European Broadcasting Union to continue to act professionally and neutrally, and not to let politics affect art.”

Several protests about Israel’s participation, including in Finland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden, have been raised, while Iceland’s Association of Composers and Lyricists said the war in Gaza made Israel’s entry “incompatible” with the spirit of the contest.

The annual Eurovision contest has been won four times by Israel, where it is popular and often viewed as a barometer of the country’s standing internationally.

In the past, the EBU has forced the altering of lyrics over politics. In 2009, Georgia withdrew from the contest over its song’s overt references to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia was itself excluded from the contest in 2022 following its invasion of Ukraine, which went on to win Eurovision that year.

Noel Curran, director general of the EBU, said: “Comparisons between wars and conflicts are complex and difficult and, as a non-political media organization, not ours to make.”

He added: “The EBU is aligned with other international organizations, including sports unions and federations and other international bodies, that have similarly maintained their inclusive stance towards Israeli participants in major competitions at this time.”

(With Reuters)

 


Saudi Journalists Association’s newly elected board adopts executive strategy

Updated 22 February 2024
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Saudi Journalists Association’s newly elected board adopts executive strategy

  • New committee for press freedoms established
  • 100-day plan endorsed, several proposals to start immediately

RIYADH: The Saudi Journalists Association’s newly elected board approved on Wednesday an executive strategy which will see several new committees established and a number of proposals fast tracked over the next 100 days.

The move came during the board’s second meeting, led by Adhwan Al-Ahmari, the association’s chairman, which took place on the sidelines of the Saudi Media Forum, held at the Riyadh Hilton Hotel.

Newly established dedicated committees will oversee the implementation of the association’s approved plan. These include an Executive Committee, responsible for setting interim targets and addressing urgent issues, and the Review and Performance Committee, tasked with monitoring performance, assessing committee effectiveness, and ensuring target fulfillment.

The Press Freedoms Committee will establish frameworks, implement plans, and collaborate with international media organizations to safeguard press freedoms.

In order to provide the association with a more robust foundation for its operations, the board has also decided to form a Committee for Developing Financial Resources, which will explore methods to generate income and ensure sustainability.

The Members and Relations Committee will manage the members’ affairs, while the Training Committee is tasked with crafting short-term and long-term training programs, as well as fostering partnerships with local and international universities and training centers.

The Events Committee will create executive plans for the association’s events and will develop a standardized criteria for internal and external activities, while the Content Committee is responsible for establishing a comprehensive editorial policy for all postings, as well as overseeing and improving the association’s website.

The board of directors endorsed a 100-day plan for the implementation of all proposals. The plan will be revised during the board’s next meeting.

The meeting of the board also discussed forming a club for journalists, which will be headquartered in Riyadh and operated by the association.

The board examined legal protection for media workers who are members of the association, in line with its regulations.

The board members emphasized the significance of expanding membership to include media students and trainees, providing them with a special membership to learn from professional journalists.

The meeting also discussed securing funding sources and establishing governance for the association’s fund for supporting journalists.


Mehdi Hasan joins The Guardian US following abrupt departure from MSNBC

Updated 22 February 2024
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Mehdi Hasan joins The Guardian US following abrupt departure from MSNBC

  • Hasan will be regular commentator with first column Wednesday urging US president to end Gaza ‘genocide’
  • MSNBC cancelled ‘The Mehdi Hasan Show’ in January amid widespread criticisms

LONDON: Former MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan is moving to The Guardian US following his sudden exit from the network last month.

The British-American writer and broadcaster, known for his award-winning work, will be a regular columnist for the American online presence of the British newspaper.

Its US editor, Betsy Reed, said Hasan’s addition would enhance the publication’s political commentary, advocacy for human rights and free speech, and accountability for those in power.

Hasan’s debut column, published on Wednesday, urged American President Joe Biden to pressure the Israeli government to end what he described as the “genocide” of Palestinians in Gaza.

Hasan said: “I have been poring over columns in The Guardian since I was a teenager. Now I get to write some of my own, in what is perhaps one of the busiest and biggest news years of my lifetime. It’s a huge honor and a privilege.”

The move came after Hasan’s MSNBC “The Mehdi Hasan Show” was abruptly cancelled by the network. While his programs did not always draw large audiences on MSNBC, his passionate monologues and incisive interviews earned him a significant online following, often leading to viral clips.

The timing of the show’s cancellation raised eyebrows, coinciding with Hasan’s criticism of Israel’s actions during its conflict with Hamas in Gaza.

Media analysts and fellow journalists have raised concerns that ending Hasan’s show had left American audiences without a crucial voice in the corporate news landscape during times of ongoing conflict.

The Guardian US has been expanding its team, adding prominent columnists and an investigative unit, reflecting the growing interest in British media among American audiences.