Washington Post subtly admits slain Khashoggi columns were ‘shaped’ by Qatar

Several journalists around the world have already tweeted their astonishment to the Washington Post revelation.  (File/AFP)
Updated 23 December 2018
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Washington Post subtly admits slain Khashoggi columns were ‘shaped’ by Qatar

  • Several journalists around the world have already tweeted their astonishment to the Washington Post revelation
  • The editors at the paper’s opinion section said they were unaware of the arrangements made by Khashoggi and the Qatar Foundation at the time of publishing

DUBAI: Slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s Washington Post columns were “shaped” by an executive at the Qatar Foundation, an entity funded directly by the Qatari regime which is at odds with Saudi Arabia, according to an article published by the Post on Saturday revealed.

“Text messages between Khashoggi and an executive at Qatar Foundation International show that the executive, Maggie Mitchell Salem, at times shaped the columns he submitted to The Washington Post, proposing topics, drafting material and prodding him to take a harder line against the Saudi government,” a statement in the article read.

Although the published article insinuates the Post’s opinion editor doesn’t envision a conflict of interest, such a matter is highly likely to go against the Post’s ethics and policies guideline that is published on its own website, it reads: 

“We do not accept payment – either honoraria or expenses – from governments, government-funded organizations, groups of government officials, political groups or organizations that take positions on controversial issues.”

“A reporter or editor also cannot accept payment from any person, company or organization that he or she covers. And we should avoid accepting money from individuals, companies, trade associations or organizations that lobby government or otherwise try to influence issues the newspaper covers…”

“…We avoid active involvement in any partisan causes — politics, community affairs, social action, demonstrations — that could compromise or seem to compromise our ability to report and edit fairly.”

Although nothing in the current revelations suggests that Khashoggi accepted payment from Qatar, the mere fact that his columns and articles were suggested, researched and translated by an affiliated with the Qatari government which since the mid nineties has been at odds with Saudi Arabia, many observers are likely to question their integrity and whether or not they reflected Jamal’s views or those of the Qataris. 

Several journalists around the world have already tweeted their astonishment to the Washington Post revelation. 

“This is unprofessional and hypocritical on behalf of the Washington Post. One only has to ask how would they have reacted if they found out that one of their pro-Trump columnists - if any - was secretly researching or getting his articles shaped by a Russian think tank. I say this while of course condemning what happened to Khashoggi and without any attempt to criticize him personally, I am just saying the Post is not deploying its own standards in this case,” said a Saudi journalist based in Riyadh on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the Khashoggi subject.

However, the editors at the paper’s opinion section said they were unaware of the arrangements made by Khashoggi and the Qatar Foundation at the time of publishing. 

“The proof of Jamal’s independence is in his journalism,” said the Post’s editorial page editor Fred Hiatt in a statement, adding that “Jamal had every opportunity to curry favor and to make life more comfortable for himself, but he chose exile and — as anyone reading his work can see — could not be tempted or corrupted.”

Salem, who served as a special assistant to US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, knew Khashoggi since 2002 and claims she only provided help to the Saudi writer in a ‘friends’ capacity only - saying that Khashoggi’s English language abilities were limited. 

“He and I talked about issues of the day as people who had come together, caring about the same part of the world,” Salem told the Washington Post. “Jamal was never an employee, never a consultant, never anything to [the foundation]. Never.”

Khashoggi, who placed himself in self-exile in the US, was last seen alive on October 2nd after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul where he was filing documents for divorce from his wife in the Kingdom. It was revealed later that he was killed by a team of Saudi agents who according to the kingdom l’a investigations were ordered to negotiate his return but ended up killing him instead. 

Since then the Saudi government has charged a number of officials and security officers with the murder, they await trial while two senior officials - including the deputy head of intelligence - lost their jobs. 

Khashoggi’s killing is an awful crime which was condemned by journalists and newspapers worldwide, including this one where he served as deputy editor in chief.


Afghans fear end of golden age of press freedom

Updated 21 May 2019
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Afghans fear end of golden age of press freedom

  • A recent televised news debate highlights how far media freedom has come in Afghanistan
  • Journalists alike worry a potential peace deal between the Taliban and the US could sound the death knell for a golden age of press freedom

KABUL: Beneath the gaze of the TV cameras a woman begins speaking, at first softly but with growing passion as she faces the "Butcher of Kabul" across a crowded auditorium and asks if he wants to apologise for alleged war crimes.
Without missing a beat, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the ruthless former warlord blamed for rocket attacks which reduced much of the Afghan capital to rubble in the 1990s, declined to do so.
The dramatic moment during a recent televised news debate highlights how far media freedom has come in Afghanistan, where -- for now -- traumatised civilians can stand and at least try to hold powerful men to account, live on camera.
"Years ago, these kind of questions could get you killed, but now people can challenge the most dangerous people in mainstream and social media," Mustafa Rahimi, a university student, said after watching the debate.
But today, even as hundreds of media outlets proliferate across Afghanistan, consumers and journalists alike worry a potential peace deal between the Taliban and the US could sound the death knell for a golden age of press freedom.
"We are concerned about a total or a partial ban on media," Sediqullah Khaliq, the director of Hewad TV and radio in Kandahar -- the birthplace of Taliban -- told AFP.
"There is fear that we may go back to a media blackout or having a state-controlled press."
While in power, the Taliban raged against traditional forms of mass communication and entertainment, banning television, movies and allowing only Islamist programming or propaganda to be broadcast on the only radio station, Voice of Sharia.
Anyone caught watching TV faced punishment and risked having their television set smashed and then displayed from a lamppost.
Almost all electronic products were outlawed as un-Islamic. For a while, trees in Kabul fluttered with the magnetic ribbon tape from destroyed cassettes.
Photographs of living things were illegal, and ownership of a video player could lead to a public lashing.
Afghanistan is the world's deadliest place for journalists, who face many risks covering the conflict and who have sometimes been targeted for doing their job.
Nine journalists, including AFP Kabul's chief photographer Shah Marai, were killed in an Islamic State attack in April 2018.
Media watchdog group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reported that 2018 was the deadliest year on record for journalists in Afghanistan, with at least 15 media workers killed while working.
Despite the risks, hundreds of media organisations have blossomed since 2001, and today there are more than 100 television channels, 284 radio stations and just over 400 newspapers and magazines, according to a government report.
With one of the world's lowest literacy rates, television and radio play a huge role in Afghan culture, and Afghans have grown accustomed to outlets holding their politicians to account.
Warlords, politicians, Taliban sympathisers and government officials are openly challenged in televised debates, radio programmes and on social media.
"We now play live music, women call in and share their problems on the radio. But even if the Taliban allow radios, I don't think they would like our programmes," said Mera Hamdam, a presenter at Zama private radio in Kandahar.
"There is huge concern that we will lose all our achievements," he said.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said if they return to power, the insurgents would follow an Islamic interpretation of freedom of expression.
"We won't allow propaganda, insults and humiliation to people in society and religious values. We will allow those who work for the betterment of the society," he told AFP.
A sixth round of talks between the US and the Taliban wrapped up last week in Doha, with apparently little progress being made on several key issues.
The two foes have for months been trying to hammer out a deal that could see foreign forces leave Afghanistan in return for a ceasefire, talks between Kabul and the Taliban, and a guarantee the country will not be used as a safe haven for terror groups.
But observers worry that in a rush to quit Afghanistan after nearly 18 gruelling years of war, America might not push for safeguards of protections many Afghans now take for granted, including media freedoms and improved rights for women and other marginalised people.
"Freedom of expression as a protective value should be incorporated into any document resulting from peace talks," NAI, a leading media support agency, said in a statement.
Rahimi, the university student, said he worried about Afghanistan going back to "the dark era".