Source for the Gander

As David T notes at Harry’s Place, their dispute with Mohammed Sawalha of the British Muslim Institute  has moved on a stage further with an exchange of solicitors letters:

Last Friday, in the wake of a closely argued debate about whether Mohammed Sawalha, the President of the British Muslim Initiative, had used the phrase “Evil Jew” or “Jewish Lobby” in a speech, Harry’s Place received a letter. The letter is from Dean and Dean, a firm of solicitors who are acting for Mr Sawalha. Mr Sawalha has demanded that we take down certain articles from Harry’s Place, and publish an apology “in the attached wording”.

The solicitors have failed to attach the apology that Mr Sawalha insists we publish. That omission matters little, as we have no intention of apologising to him at all, nor of taking down any article.

We have responded to Mr Sawalha’s solicitors, through Mishcon de Reya, who are acting for us.

Mr Sawalha claims that we have “chosen a malevolent interpretation of a meaningless word”. In fact, we did no more than translate a phrase which appeared in an Al Jazeera report of Mr Sawalha’s speech. When Al Jazeera changed that phrase from “Evil Jew” to “Jewish Lobby”, we reported that fact, along with the statement that it had been a typographical error.

Whatever you might personally think of the underlying issues, there is no doubt that David has, in blogging terms, handled the story correctly. When challenged over the validity of the translation, he produced evidence to support the translation given in his original article – not only a screenshot but a direct reference to the reference material used to translate the phrase in question – and updated the article to reflect the claim, by the journalist who interviewed Sawalha, that the original text was no more than a typographical error that Al Jazeera subsequently corrected.

And, on that basis alone, I personally feel that we all, as bloggers, should be supporting David and Harry’s Place, much as we’ve supported other bloggers when they’ve faced the threat of vexatious legal action.

But – as you might expect from me – there’s a little more to be said…

I’m not, personally, a big fan of ‘me too’ blogging and prefer, if possible, to try an add a little something to any story I cover, especially if I spot something that piques my interest – and in this case, that turned out to be the statement given by Medyan Dairieh, the journalist who interviewed Sawalha for Al Jazeera, to Sawalha’s solicitor; a statement which, unlike the wording of the apology that Sawalha is apparently seeking, the solictor managed to append to his letter to Harry’s Place:

I interviewed Muhammed Sawalha of he [sic] British Muslim Initiative at the 60th Birthday Celebrations for Israel in London on Sunday 29 June for Aljazeera.

Due to a typo the word lobby (written in Arabic) has been mistranslanted as ‘evil’ by the British media when in fact my misspelling renders the word absolutely meaningless. So ‘Jewish Lobby’ is being touted as ‘evil Jew’.

I want to make it absolutely clear that Muhammed Sawalha did not refer to Jews in this way and that even my spelling mistake does not refer to Jews as evil.

The mistake in on the part of the British media who have problems translating Arabic in to English

[link to original article at Harry’s Place]

It is unfortunate that the British media has chosen to source its material from Harry’s place which is not an impeccable source.

Let’s deal, first, with the typo explanation. A couple of days ago, I called in a favour and ran the screenshot past a couple of native Arabic speakers of my acquaintance to get a second opinion, and like those consulted by David, the opinion I got was that passage, as it appeared on Al Jazeera, did refer to ‘the dreaded/disasterous/evil Jew’ – if there was a typo in the original article as submitted by Dairieh, then, as was suggested to me, it must have been ‘corrected’ by a sub-editor at AJ’s website before the article was published because the wording in perfectly clear and anything but meaningless.

In short, and based on the information I was given by my Arabic-speaking friends, the typo story seems rather implausible, the more so for neither of them being able to suggest quite what kind of typographical error Dairieh could have made that might have suggested to a sub-editor that the correct phrase to use was ‘the dreaded Jew’ rather than ‘the Jewish Lobby’.

The other thing that rather piqued my interest here is Dairieh’s reference to Harry’s place being ‘not an impeccable source’.

Now I’ve been know disagree with material posted at Harry’s Place from time to time, but pretty much always an matters of opinion and the interpretation of facts. Like the vast majority of blogs, HP is what it is and its, shall we say, ‘editorial stance’ and particular biases on certain issues are entirely a known quantity. It’s not what I’d consider an ‘impeccable source’ but then I can’t, off hand, think of any source of news and opinion to which I’d apply that particular adjective.

It is, however, within the parameters of its usual (and well-known editorial line) a reliable source and one that’s no more prone to making mistakes than anyone else, including the MSM, and in all respects a better source than many in the professional media, particularly the ‘Red Tops’. If nothing else I can’t recall David or any of the other regular contributors at HP ever getting caught out for making things up, unlike certain newspapers I could name, who’s editors must have their own designated parking spaces at the offices of the Press Complaints Commission.

That said, in introducing the issue of the reliability of Harry’s Place as a source of information into proceeeding, its seems only fair that we subject Dairieh to a little of the same kind of scrutiny and ask whether or not he could reasonably be considered to be an ‘impeccable source’ – and, too be frank, the signs aren’t overly promising.

First things first, let’s not allow the fact that Al Jazeera carried his interview with Sawalha artifically inflate his professional status. Dairieh is, as his brief profile at the site of the Student Operated Press indiciates, simply a ‘freelance stringer photojournalist’ and ‘International Photo Media‘, the business name given in his e-mailed statement to Sawalha’s solicitor, isn’t exactly Getty Images.

According to the WHOIS record for the domain ‘imageslive.net’, the site was only registered in January 2007, has an IP address that traces back to Pipex and runs a simple web shop on software provided by Shop Factory – and the owner of the domain and, therefore, of ‘International Photo Media’ is…

… Medyan Dairieh.

So what we have here is Brighton-based jobbing photo journalist, seemingly not too long out of university and still at the stage of supplementing whatever income he manages to generate from journalism with the old staples of family portraits, wedding photos, etc.

According to the same SOP profile he has ‘always concentrated on working in areas of conflict around the world’ and is ‘due to travel to Palestine, Iraq, and Turkey’, while the blurb on his business website states that:

International Photo Media provides journalistic pictures and videos to newspapers, news-agencies and other press-organisations around the world. At the same time, International Photo Media keeps in constant contact with journalists and highly skilled press photographers residing in troubled areas such as Palestine, Iraq and Turkey. International Photo Media can arrange logistic support to press-agency reporters with their travel and accommodation and provide translators and interviews with high-rank politicians in areas such as Palestine, Turkey and Iraq.

A little more digging indicates that prior to his interview with Sawalha his main claim to ‘fame’, in the UK appears to be a toss up between getting pulled by the Old Bill at a demo at an arms component factory outside Brighton, in April this year and photographing a couple of demos in London, which were organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign – one of which, a demonstration at Wembley Stadium during England’s Euro 2008 qualifier with Israel, he wrote up for Indymedia.

So we seem to have a few hints, already, that Dairieh may be, at best, no more an ‘impeccable source’ than Harry’s Place… but then there;s rather more to come and what there is raises some interesting questions, as it turns out that the distribution rights to his photographs of the two PSC demonstrations are held by Ma’an Images, part of the Ma’an News Agency, which has its ‘Jerusalem office’ in Hebron Street, Bethleham – which is, of course, on the West Bank.

And, lo and behold, a quick search of Ma’an Images’s website turn up 41 photos taken by Dairieh, most of which are of protests in the UK but, interestingly, several taken on the West Bank during a visit to the area in November 2007, ranging from the classic but unoriginal ‘kids chucking stones at the Israeli military’ to photographs of two ministers from the Emergency Palestinian Authority, Minister of Justice, Information and Foreign Affairs, Riyad Al-Malki, and Ashraf Al-Ajrami, the Minister for Prisoners and Released Affairs, Youth and Sports.

The Ma’an News Agency, which receives financial support from the Netherland and Denmark, is seemingly the de facto mouthpiece of the Palestinian Authority. In April, this year, it found itself faced with some pretty stiff criticism after it was found to have been having it both ways in its reporting of the same events on its English and Arabic language websites:

In the report, Marcus and Crook found that Ma’an’s Arabic reports glorified the Palestinian who recently murdered eight students at Jerusalem’s Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, February’s Dimona suicide terrorist, the killers of the two Israeli hikers and the terrorists who attacked a boys’ high school with the very highest Islamic status attainable, elevating them to the status of shahids – “martyrs for Allah.”

“In defining terrorist murderers as ‘shahids,’ Ma’an is by definition sending its readers a straightforward message of honor for the killers, and approval for the many murders,” Marcus and Crook wrote.

In its English versions of these reports, according to Palestinian Media Watch, Ma’an neither honored the terrorists as “shahids” nor used the English term “martyrs.”

By way a response, Ma’an issued this statement, in which it justifies the differing editorial stances taken when reporting in different languages pretty much on the basis of it being what its audience expects.

This raises a couple of interesting points.

First, and quite obviously, it clearly points to the fact that Dairieh is far from being neutral in his views on the Middle East and, therefore, raises a further element of reasonable doubt as to the versimilitude of his explanation of how ‘the evil Jew’ came to be ‘accidentally transposed with ‘the Jewish Lobby’.

Second it raises the question of just exactly who was he working for when carrying out the interview with Sawalha.

Was he actually working under a commission from Al Jazeera or as freelancer, and if the latter, did he sell the interview directly to AJ or was it sold via the Ma’an News Agency, which as we’ve already seen, has previous form for adopting a very different rhetorical tone when reporting on events in Arabic than it does in its English language reporting?

So , we have another potential point in the process between Sawalha’s original comments, whatever these actually were, and the report that appeared, initial, on Al Jazeera, at which – conceivably – the phrase ‘the dreaded/evil Jew’ may have been inserted or added to the text submitted by Dairieh, not to mention that, by his association with the Ma’an News Agency, Dairieh’s own impartiality, and therefore his claim that what appeared on Al ~Jazeera’s website was nothing more than an accident caused by a typo, has to be subjected to scrutiny and serious questioning… as I’m I’m sure it will be if Mischon de Raya get to cross-examine him under oath in a court of law.

In short, the case against Harry’s Place, such as it is, looks thinner and thinner the more you look at it and Sawalha’s actions in threatening to sue look increasingly like a vexatious act of quasi-legal bullying, not to mention an opportunistic and – in my personal opinion – thoroughly disreputable attempt to offset some rather embarrassing press by attacking a blogger over an article posted in good faith.

  • Harry Watch

    “I can

  • I’m not sure that Ma’an reports about “shaheeds” is all that damning; watch the documentary in a Baghdad hospital which the BBC made a couple of years back and the doctors routinely called everyone who died in their care as “shaheeds” – it’s entered the lexicon far further than some would lead you to believe.

  • So, just to be clear, Harry Watch: you don’t consider Hamas spokesmen committed to the destruction of Israel to be anti-Semites?

    Simple yes or no would probably suffice.

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  • Tim B

    “I

  • “So, just to be clear, Harry Watch: you don

  • Lara