Who would have thought that one of the world's largest news agencies would be intimidated into publishing a hatchet job by a cynical triumvirate of Middle Eastern regimes?
has not done itself any favours by sacrificing its editorial integrity and siding with what has recently been exposed as an autocratic alliance of anti-democratic forces in the region. The UAE, Saudi Arabia
and Israel have all been exposed over the years for their anti-democratic nature and their vehement opposition to those who call for democratic transition.
We are used to regime interference in Arab media. Journalists in the region are most definitely used to this. But why would AFP feel it has to fall under the influence of regimes? Why did AFP decide to publish a slanderous piece about possibly the most prominent proponent of democracy and freedom in the region? And why did its editors publish this - knowing that it sits perfectly within the false narrative that these regimes are promoting across their huge media empires?
Let's start at the beginning…
Ever since the Arab Spring
took place, the campaign against Azmi Bishara has intensified. Spoiler forces that worked to try and destroy the Arab dream of democracy realised that the best way to do so was to carry out character assassinations of those brave enough to call for change.
Who better to target than the ideologue of change in the region, a man who is from a minority yet calls for the rights of all Arabs, a man whose community is under attack yet calls for freedom of expression, and a man whose country is occupied by a foreign military - yet has dedicated his life to struggling through democratic and peaceful means.
Recently, as their love and appreciation for each other has come out into the open, the utter contempt these regimes have for the values for which their people yearn - and their willingness to use slander and ad hominem
attacks - has come to the fore.
||In all this, not one outlet has even attempted to contact Bishara for comment. Not one email. Not one call
Thousands of tweets and posts by fake accounts and so-called digital armies of the "Mukhabarat" states have been written slandering Dr Bishara, laughably calling him an ideologue of the Arab revolutions, a terrorist, a Muslim Brother, an agent of Israel, and a person who is trying to sow discord by calling for democracy.
Hours of TV programmes on Saudi, Egyptian and UAE
stations have "discussed" how the well-known writer has supported and funded terrorism and directed the foreign policy of the state of Qatar. All laughable, all to be expected of regimes that do not even pay lip-service to media integrity.
In all this, not one outlet has even attempted to contact Bishara for comment. Not one email. Not one call. This is understandable, given these agencies work for regimes that wish only to discredit him. But it's all the more shocking when it's done by AFP.
Not one call or email from AFP to Dr Bishara. Is that really how AFP would have operated had it been covering someone else? Would the AFP have published a hatchet job on a prominent Western intellectual or politician? Would AFP have asked completely unrelated sources to the subject of their investigation instead of contacting the source himself?
As a result, this cannot be seen as independent of what is happening within the region and what these regimes are doing in tandem with each other. The piece talks about what Dr Bishara's detractors accuse him of; being the man behind Qatar's foreign policy, being a supporter of terrorism, and - for good measure - the article describes him as a moustachioed Rasputin figure. Baseless, unsubstantiated and personalised too.
Ludicrously, the idea of a liberal secular Nazarene Christian Arab funding Islamist terrorism isn't enough to put off the anonymous authors of this piece.
Can anyone reading the article be blamed in thinking that when AFP
runs a piece about one of the most prominent thinkers and proponents of democracy in the Arab world without even contacting him, his office, his centre, the university with which he is affiliated and founded - the list is long and he is an impressively accessible person - that this is anything other than paid-for propaganda?
||This is a hugely dangerous and destructive precedent because it shows the level of influence held by Arab regimes and their stooges over international media organisations that claim to be impartial and objective
The piece listed the accusations made by his detractors and then invited a think-tanker to comment on them. In not even contacting or trying to contact Bishara, AFP
gives away the motivation behind the piece: defamation.
This is a hugely dangerous and destructive precedent because it shows the level of influence held by Arab regimes and their stooges over international media organisations that claim to be impartial and objective. This was a profile cooked-up in the corridors of regime power. This was neither a news story nor a scoop. It was a rehash of political dezinformatsiya
How impartial and objective was AFP, the world's third-oldest news agency, when it ran this profile? How professional was it when a story about an Arab academic, politician, writer and philosopher was written without his own input or that even of other Arabs? It is entirely laughable that such a piece be written and published so easily yet also incredibly insulting and provocative to know that the same cavalier approach would have never be applied to a Western public personality.
Arabs now unfortunately have one fewer media source to trust. Given the dearth of credibility within their own region this bodes ill for them as they search for the truth. It is now clear that the gulf between blatant propaganda and those who claim to be independent is not as wide as they might have thought.
Dr Bishara needs no defence; his struggle and his values are clear and stand for all to see. Yet AFP
has not only insulted him and the millions who believe in him, it has also shown itself to be a willing pawn in the current conflict between democratic forces and autocratic regimes
in the region.