WikiLeaks: Media Relations, Hezbollah Style

We’ve known about Hezbollah’s media strong-arm tactics with Western journalists. Even Nic Robertson admitted during the 2006 Lebanon War that he was a tool of Hezbollah.

Now WikiLeaks paints an even bleaker for Taher Abbas, a journalist with the misfortune of living in — of all places — Beirut’s Dahiya neighborhood, where Hezbollah is based.

According to the confidential cable, which was sent by US ambassador to Lebanon Michele Sison to the State Department in 2009, Hezbollah members repeatedly harassed a Lebanese reporter known for his disdain for the Shiite organization.

Sison said that after Taher Abbas, who reported for the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, returned from the US after covering the last presidential election, three Hezbollah members came to his home and interrogated him over his and his family’s life. They asked what cars he and his wife drive, where his kids go to school and whether he had internet access. They even asked about his eight-year-old daughter’s political opinions.

. . . .

The eerie encounter with the Hezbollah operatives did not end with the interrogation; Abbas said he was followed, and his phones were tapped. Abbas’ friends even told him that the Shiite organization has spies stationed in residential buildings in his neighborhood, who report an unusual activity.

Although this doesn’t appear to be the case with Abbas, journalists often put up with intimidation because they don’t want to lose access. The classic example of sacrificing principles for access is CNN in Iraq, as former executive Eason Jordan admitted. However, Michael Totten says losing access to Hezbollah is “no big deal.”

This is how Hezbollah treats Western journalists. I’d say I’m surprised more journalists don’t mention this sort of thing in their articles. But most journalists don’t write first-person narratives. Industry rules generally don’t allow them to describe these kinds of incidents. Even though it has been years since Hezbollah has kidnapped or physically harmed Western journalists, some may be afraid to rile up an Iranian proxy militia that is listed by the United States government as a terrorist organization. Hezbollah informed me that I’m officially blacklisted (meaning they will no longer give me interviews or even quotes) for what I have written about them in the past.

Some journalists don’t want to burn bridges to their own access and make their jobs harder. I don’t personally care. Last year I interviewed a high-level Hezbollah official, Mohammad Afif, but it was a useless interview that wasn’t even worth publishing. My translator told me that what Afif said matched exactly word-for-word what Hezbollah says every day on their own Al Manar TV channel. Losing access to these guys isn’t that big a deal.

Small consolation to Taher Abbas. He lives in the Dahiya.

I invite Palestinian journos living in Hamas or Fatah neighborhoods to commiserate in the comments section.

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