US impeachment hearings grab media spotlight

After US Energy Secretary Rick Perry, center — seen here with former ambassador to the Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch — proposed political backer Michael Bleyzer, left, as an adviser to the Ukraine’s president, Bleyzer secured a potentially lucrative energy deal from the Ukrainian government, according to press reports. (AP)
Updated 12 November 2019

US impeachment hearings grab media spotlight

  • Televised hearings into allegations about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine will begin in the US this week

WASHINGTON: This week will mark a new and unparalleled chapter in Donald Trump’s tumultuous presidency, as the Democratic-led impeachment probe goes public with televised hearings into allegations about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.

Beginning on Wednesday, three witnesses will publicly detail their concerns, previously expressed behind closed doors, that the Trump administration sought to tie military aid to Ukraine to an investigation of the Republican president’s potential Democratic rival for the presidency, Joe Biden.

The testimony will be carried by major broadcast and cable networks and is expected to be viewed by millions, who will watch current and former officials from Trump’s own administration begin to outline a case for his potential removal from office.

It has been 20 years since Americans last witnessed impeachment proceedings, when Republicans brought charges against then-Democratic President Bill Clinton.

Democrats in the US House of Representatives argue Trump abused his authority in pressing the Ukrainian government to investigate Biden and his son Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma.

Representative Eric Swalwell, a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, which will hold the hearings on Wednesday and Friday this week, accused Trump on Sunday of “extortion.”

“We have enough evidence from the depositions that we’ve done to warrant bringing this forward, evidence of an extortion scheme, using taxpayer dollars to ask a foreign government to investigate the president’s opponent,” Swalwell said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Trump argued on Twitter that he was not guilty of misconduct and that the probe was politically driven. “NOTHING WAS DONE WRONG!” he wrote on Sunday.

Democrats consider the open hearings to be crucial to building public support for a formal impeachment vote against Trump. If that occurs, the Republican-controlled Senate would hold a trial on the charges. Republicans have so far shown little support for removing Trump from office, which would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate. The House Intelligence Committee will first hear from William Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, who told the committee in closed-door testimony that he was unhappy US aid to the country was held up by the administration.

Taylor said he also became uncomfortable with what he described as an “irregular channel” of people involved in Ukraine policy, including Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer.

George Kent, a senior State Department official who oversees Ukraine, will appear at Wednesday’s hearing as well. Kent was also concerned about Giuliani’s role in conducting shadow diplomacy — and has testified that he was cut out of
the decision-making loop on Ukraine matters.

On Friday, the committee will hear from former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. She says she was ousted from her post after Giuliani and his allies mounted a campaign against her with what she called “unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives.”

Democrats are likely to call further witnesses after this week.

House Republicans released their list on Saturday of witnesses they would like brought before the committee, including Hunter Biden and the yet-unnamed whistleblower who first brought the complaint against Trump over his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a Democrat, is unlikely to summon either to testify, and even some Republicans have opposed the push from Trump and some of his supporters that the whistleblower be identified.

“I think we should be protecting the identity of the whistleblower,” Will Hurd, a former CIA officer and a Republican member of the committee, said on the “Fox News Sunday” program, “because how we treat this whistleblower will impact whistleblowers in the future.”


Lebanon’s journalists suffer abuse, threats covering unrest

Updated 07 December 2019

Lebanon’s journalists suffer abuse, threats covering unrest

  • The deteriorating situation for journalists in Lebanon comes despite its decades-old reputation for being an island of free press in the Arab world

BEIRUT: Lebanese journalists are facing threats and wide-ranging harassment in their work — including verbal insults and physical attacks, even death threats — while reporting on nearly 50 days of anti-government protests, despite Lebanon’s reputation as a haven for free speech in a troubled region.
Nationwide demonstrations erupted on Oct. 17 over a plunging economy. They quickly grew into calls for sweeping aside Lebanon’s entire ruling elite. Local media outlets — some of which represent the sectarian interests protesters are looking to overthrow — are now largely seen as pro- or anti-protests, with some journalists feeling pressured to leave their workplaces over disagreements about media coverage.
The deteriorating situation for journalists in Lebanon comes despite its decades-old reputation for being an island of free press in the Arab world. Amid Lebanon’s divided politics, media staff have usually had wide range to freely express their opinions, unlike in other countries in the region where the state stifles the media.
The acts of harassment began early in the protests. MTV television reporter Nawal Berry was attacked in central Beirut in the first days of the demonstrations by supporters of the militant group Hezbollah and its allies. They smashed the camera, robbed the microphone she was holding, spat on her and kicked her in the leg.
“How is it possible that a journalist today goes to report and gets subjected to beating and humiliation? Where are we? Lebanon is the country of freedoms and democracy,” Berry said.
Outlets like MTV are widely seen as backing protesters’ demands that Lebanon’s sectarian political system be completely overturned to end decades of corruption and mismanagement.
Rival TV stations and newspapers portray the unrest — which led to the Cabinet’s resignation over a month ago — as playing into the hands of alleged plots to undermine Hezbollah and its allies. Many of those outlets are run by Hezbollah, President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and the Amal Movement of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. These media regularly blast protesters for closing roads and using other civil disobedience tactics, describing them as “bandits.”
For Berry, the media environment worsened as the unrest continued. On the night of Nov. 24, while she was covering clashes between protesters and Hezbollah and Amal supporters on a central road in Beirut, supporters of the Shiite groups chased her into a building. She hid there until police came and escorted her out.
“I was doing my job and will continue to do so. I have passed through worse periods and was able to overcome them,” said Berry, who added she is taking a short break from working because of what she passed through recently.
Hezbollah supporters also targeted Dima Sadek, who resigned last month as an anchorwoman at LBC TV. She blamed Hezbollah supporters for robbing her smartphone while she was filming protests, and said the harassment was followed by insulting and threatening phone calls to her mother, who suffered a stroke as a result of the stress.
“I have taken a decision (to be part of the protests) and I am following it. I have been waiting for this moment all my life and I have always been against the political, sectarian and corrupt system in Lebanon,” said Sadek, a harsh critic of Hezbollah, adding that she has been subjected to cyberbullying for the past four years.
“I know very well that this will have repercussions on my personal and professional life. I will go to the end no matter what the price is,” Sadek said shortly after taking part in a demonstration in central Beirut.
Protesters have also targeted journalists reporting with what are seen as pro-government outlets. OTV station workers briefly removed their logos from equipment while covering on the demonstrations to avoid verbal and physical abuse. The station is run by supporters of Aoun’s FPM.
“The protest movement has turned our lives upside down,” said OTV journalist Rima Hamdan, who during one of her reports slapped a man on his hand after he pointed his middle finger at her. She said the station’s logo “is our identity even though sometimes we had to remove it for our own safety.”
Television reporters with Hezbollah’s Al-Manar and Amal’s NBN channels were also attacked in a town near Beirut, when they were covering the closure of the highway linking the capital city with southern Lebanon by protesters. In a video, an NBN correspondent is seen being attacked, while troops and policemen stand nearby without intervening.
“This happens a lot in Lebanon because some media organizations are politicized. No one sees media organizations as they are but sees them as representing the political group that owns them,” said Ayman Mhanna, director of the Beirut-based media watchdog group SKeyes.
“The biggest problem regarding these violations is that there is no punishment,” Mhanna said. Authorities usually fail to act even when they identify those behind attacks on journalists, he added.
Coverage of the protests also led to several journalists resigning from one of Lebanon’s most prominent newspapers, Al-Akhbar, which is seen as close to Hezbollah, and the pan-Arab TV station Al-Mayadeen, which aligns closely with the policies of Iran, Syria and Venezuela.
Joy Slim, who quit as culture writer at Al-Akhbar after more than five years, said she did so after being “disappointed” with the daily’s coverage of the demonstrations. She released a video widely circulated on social media that ridiculed those who accuse the protesters of being American agents.
Sami Kleib, a prominent Lebanese journalist with a wide following around the Middle East, resigned from Al-Mayadeen last month. He said the reason behind his move was that he was “closer to the people than the authorities.”
“The Lebanese media is similar to politics in Lebanon where there is division between two axes: One that supports the idea of conspiracy theory, and another that fully backs the protest movement with its advantages and disadvantages,” Kleib said.