As journalists debate the ethics of the Gilad Shalit interview, Lawrence Pintak, the dean of the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, calls a spade a spade. He writes in the Columbia Journalism Review:
But how many reporters can honestly say that, given the opportunity, they would have turned down the chance to be the first to speak with Shalit? Would Israel TV have said no?
His criticism of the interview is only in the way Shahira Amin handled it.
When considering the ethics of the Shalit interview it might be useful to separate the ethics of doing the interview from the ethics of how the interview was conducted.
In short, consider the source. Shahira Amin is an anchor at Nile TV, the English-language service of the government-owned station that sanitized the revolution. She spent much of her career communicating the official Mubarak government line and while she resigned amid much fanfare when it was fairly clear the government would fall, she was back at work not long after.
In the Shalit interview, her questions ranged from the illogical to the ridiculous. Why didn’t he do more videos from captivity? What “lessons” did he learn? Would he campaign for the release of Palestinian prisoners? And through it all, she kept fishing for complements about Egypt’s role in the release.
It was a classic performance by an Arab state broadcaster: one part journalism, two parts propaganda. Habits, after all, are hard to break.
Pintak describes interviewing teenage Iranian prisoners of war that violated the Geneva Convention and the professional jealousy of watching competing journalist Charles Glass dine with hostages of TWA flight 847 on the tarmac of Beirut International Airport under the protection of Hezbollah’s armed goons. The hostages were subsequently hidden in scattered areas of Beirut.
I agree with Pintak’s assessment of how the interview was carried out. And the issue of whether any interview should’ve happened is a very slippery slope. We now know that Red Cross doctors did not examine Shalit before Amin’s propaganda stunt. The ethics of Amin’s interview are going to be discussed in journalism schools for some time to come.