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Khalid Al Sayed
If you are looking for just one valued trait in any journalist anywhere in the world, it has got to be impartiality. Impartiality is crucial if a journalist’s work is to gain credibility. If he has to win public trust, a journalist must strive for balanced and fair coverage to a story or an event. For his work has a huge impact not only on public opinion, but also has the ability to shape the policies of a nation. This is why most international codes of ethics for journalists emphasise objectivity and neutrality as core tenets.
Some media organizations, like The New York Times, highlight its importance even in the private lives of journalists. One of the articles of NYT’s Policy on Ethics in Journalism states that while the company understands their employees’ right to live private lives, they should bear in mind that what they do in their private lives may have an implication on the company’s goal of providing “ethical and impartial journalism”. NYT has made provisions in its code of ethics to ensure that journalists maintain their objectivity even in their private lives.
Paragraph 89 of the NYTs code states: “Journalists do not take part in politics. While staff members are entitled to vote and to register in party primaries, they must do nothing that might raise questions about their professional neutrality or that of our news operations. In particular, they may not campaign for, demonstrate for, or endorse candidates, ballot causes or efforts to enact legislation. They may not wear campaign buttons or themselves display any other insignia of partisan politics.”
Similarly, Al Jazeera mentions the importance of objectivity and impartiality as Number One provision in its Code of Ethics, emphasising that the network “adhere(s) to the journalistic values of honesty, courage, fairness, balance, independence, credibility and diversity, giving no priority to commercial or political over professional consideration.”
While media outlets may have different rules for employees, impartiality and objectivity occupy prime position in all codes of ethics. That is why we were surprised when Ahmed Mansour, one of Aljazeera Arabic’s prominent anchors, in a series of columns published this week and last week in a local Arabic newspaper (Al Watan) gave details of his active involvement in the Arab Spring revolution in Egypt.
Mansour admitted that he was among the seven people who drafted the first statement of the January 25 movement (that was read by Egypt’s current Vice-President Mahmoud Mekki), which played a key role in the eventual downfall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime.
He also admitted to supervising behind-the-scenes work in the beginning of the movement for its promotion in the media, confirming that meetings with various opposition groups connected to the uprising were held in his home. Eventually, he said, he had to take the centre-stage and lead chants when the people told him that they needed him as a symbol. Mansour also said how they worked out the strategy so the story of the Egyptian revolution be the main focus of all major news agencies and TV networks around the world.
He, however, made a point that he was participating in the revolution as an Egyptian citizen and not as an employee of Aljazeera.
Mansour’s declarations about his participation in the Egyptian revolution in his capacity as a private citizen of the country, however, will not wash. Mansour is a well-known media personality in the Arab world and his “revolutionary activities” greatly compromise his credibility as a journalist. Mansour hosts a popular talk show, Bela Hodod (Without Frontiers) that airs in Aljazeera and the revelation of his involvement with the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt may affect the direction of his programme, which some viewers may see as being biased.
Yes, we recognise that journalists are people too and are entitled to have private lives, but one should also be aware that journalists are not ordinary people.
They are constantly in the public eye and thus have an ethical responsibility to the public to be balanced and fair in whatever they do. The activities that journalists take part in, particularly if the issue has political implications, can affect the public’s perception not only of the journalist, but also of the media outlet that he is connected with. By participating in political activities, Mansour has compromised not only his impartiality but also of Aljazeera’s.
Many questions arise: What did he hope to achieve by participating in politics? Was he acting in his own self-interest or was he delivering a message? Was he aiming to gain something from Egypt’s Brotherhood government, especially since Mahmoud Mekki, the person who read the Egyptian revolution’s first statement, was appointed Vice-President in Mohammed Mursi’s government? Or was he acting on behalf of a particular group? Moreover, how does Mansour’s political participation affect Aljazeera’s transparency and credibility as a world-class TV network?
Ahmed Mansour’s case brings to mind Aljazeera’s former Beirut Bureau Chief, Ghassan Ben Jeddo. The difference being that Ben Jeddo resigned from his post at Aljazeera when his political beliefs came into conflict with Aljazeera polices while Mansour did not.
Aljazeera has often been hailed as one of the influences that helped the Arab Spring revolutions across the region. It was the network’s coverage of the first spark of revolutionary fervour in Tunisia that lit the uprisings in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria. But recently Aljazeera has come in for criticism for its coverage of the Arab Spring countries because of the perception that it is favouring some groups over others. Mansour’s admission only adds fuel to the suspicion of some people that Aljazeera has an agenda in covering the Arab Spring uprisings.
How Aljazeera responds to the Mansour case is crucial for the network if it wants to clear its name and reestablish credibility not only among its Arab audience but globally. Aljazeera should carefully examine the people who work for it because the hidden political ideologies of the staff and journalists might colour the way they cover news and events. This could prove to be very damaging to Aljazeera’s stellar reputation as the “voice for the voiceless” in the Arab world. The Peninsula