Setups, Lies & Videotape

UPDATE

YNet News now reports that Israel’s Government Press Office (GPO) launched a formal investigation into this matter, including whether Italian journalist Monni and the ANSA News Agency colluded with Hezbollah or engaged in fraud and misrepresentation. Both ANSA and Al Jazeera denied to the GPO that they were involved in any way.

***

Did an Italian journalist working in Israel and Palestinian TV producer collude with Hezbollah for a propaganda broadcast?

Israelis and Lebanese recently marked the 10th anniversary of the Second War in Lebanon. That was the conflict triggered by Hezbollah’s kidnapping of IDF soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser.

Among the various reporters working on documentaries was freelance Italian journalist, Michele Monni. Monni interviewed ex-foreign minister Tzipi Livni, ex-defense minister Amir Peretz and two former soldiers about their memories of the abduction and subsequent 2006 conflict.

After Monni conducted seemingly ordinary interviews, something strange happened. As broken by Ynet, Monni’s work was aired, not by Italian television, but by al-Mayadeen, a Lebanese TV station aligned with Hezbollah.

Al-Mayadeen is known in the Arab world as part of the “axis of opposition” media, which includes Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV station. This Shiite media axis staunchly supports Bashar Assad and Iran, and also prides itself on countering Al-Jazeera’s Sunni-leaning agenda.

None of the Israelis would have agreed to be interviewed by Monni had they known they would be appearing in a Hezbollah mouthpiece’s “documentary.” Asked how his work wound up in al-Mayadeen’s hands, Monni gave contradictory explanations (more on that below).

(Al-Mayadeen’s full documentary is on YouTube. The overall narration is in Arabic; interviews with Israelis, and sections featuring news footage of Americans, are in Hebrew and English, respectively.)

 

Troubling Questions

Did Michele Monni know he was essentially working for Hezbollah?

Was he fooled by the terror group or its media supporters and merely used as a pawn? Or is there some other explanation entirely?

Monni defended his actions by telling several contradictory stories about how this strange sequence of events came to be.

Working with, for, or in support of a terror organization is a crime. Hezbollah is designated as a terror organization by most of the Western world, including Israel (where Monni was working) and its “military wing” is so designated by the European Union (where Monni is from).

In an exclusive correspondence with Israel’s Government Press Office (GPO), HonestReporting learned that Monni had an official GPO press card which has since expired, and that it listed him as an Italian journalist. Is it possible that Monni improperly used his press credential to fool his interviewees into thinking he was working for Italian audiences when Monni knew this was not true?

If so, what consequences will result from the GPO’s investigation?

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Was Monni duped?

Monni claims that he really did not know he was working for Mayadeen. If this is true, it raises still other questions:

Why didn’t Monni know he was working for Mayadeen?

Monni says he was hired in Jerusalem by a Palestinian TV producer, Ahmed Barghouthi. (Barghouthi also insists he doesn’t know how the interviews ended up with al Mayadeen).

For whom did Barghouthi think he was working? To whom exactly did he transfer the interviews?

Is Barghouthi another unfortunate example of Palestinian stringers — like certain problematic writers, photographers, cameramen, translators, producers and fixers employed by the foreign press — with their own partisan agendas?

Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser

Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser

Most disturbing of all, is Monni’s interview with former IDF soldier, Tomer Weinberg, who was with Regev and Goldwasser during the abduction. According to Tomer,  Monni presented himself as a journalist for the Italian news agency ANSA, saying “the Italian people are extremely interested to hear your story.”

But ANSA has denied any connection with this project. How is it possible that Monni’s supposed employer says that Monni was not actually working for them on this project?

Is Monni lying? Or is ANSA lying?

Monni told YNet a different story, saying he thought he was hired by Barghouthi to prepare a program for BBC and Al Jazeera. And according spokespeople, Monni told yet another story to Tzipi Livni and Amir Peretz: that the interviews were intended for the BBC and Italian television.

Why did Monni offer conflicting explanations of whom he supposedly worked for?

Did ANSA (or the BBC, or Al Jazeera) know about any of this? Al Jazeera (like ANSA) denied any involvement or knowledge of this project. Are they telling the truth? If so, will these news agencies take any action against Monni and/or Barghouthi?

And what does all this mean for ANSA, BBC and Al Jazeera’s relationship with Israel?

Though it is presently unclear exactly who knew what, one thing is certain: there are serious breaches of professional conduct among at least some members of the foreign press working in Israel.

And the unfortunate end result was terror propaganda, not journalism.

HonestReporting CEO Joe Hyams said:

This is a massive breach of media transparency. It’s one of the few areas of media bias that the public can’t necessarily discern from coverage, and this is exactly why media watchdogs like HonestReporting have to keep the news industry on its toes and protect the public from manipulation.

 

Featured image: Video Camera Vector by Freepik with modifications by HonestReporting;

 

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