Robert Fisk, veteran foreign correspondent, dies at 74

Robert Fisk, veteran foreign correspondent, dies at 74
Veteran British journalist Robert Fisk reports from Douma, during a tour by Syria’s Information Ministry to the town days after it was captured from rebels by Syrian government forces, April 16, 2018. (AP Photo)
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Updated 02 November 2020

Robert Fisk, veteran foreign correspondent, dies at 74

Robert Fisk, veteran foreign correspondent, dies at 74
  • A fearless, bespectacled and cheerful personality bristling with energy, Fisk was often the first reporter to arrive at the scene of a story
  • He shunned email, smart phones and social media till the end, and strongly believed in the power of street reporting

BEIRUT: Veteran British journalist Robert Fisk, one of the best-known Middle East correspondents who spent his career reporting from the troubled region and won accolades for challenging mainstream narratives has died after a short illness, his employer said Monday. He was 74.
Fisk, whose reporting often sparked controversy, died Sunday at a hospital in Dublin, shortly after he was taken there after falling ill at his home in the Irish capital. The London Independent, where he had worked since 1989, described him as the most celebrated journalist of his era.
“Fearless, uncompromising, determined and utterly committed to uncovering the truth and reality at all costs, Robert Fisk was the greatest journalist of his generation,” said Christian Broughton, managing director of the newspaper.
“The fire he lit at The Independent will burn on,” he said.
Born in Kent, in the United Kingdom, Fisk began his career on Fleet Street at the Sunday Express. He went on to work for The Times, where he was based in Northern Ireland, Portugal and the Middle East. He moved to Beirut in 1976, a year after the country’s civil war broke out, and continued to work and live from an apartment located on the Lebanese capital’s famed Mediterranean corniche until his death.
From his base in Beirut, Fisk traveled across the Mideast and beyond, covering almost every big story in the region, including the Lebanon war, the Iran-Iraq war, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the war in Algeria, the conflict in Afghanistan, Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, the Arab Spring and Syria’s civil war. His reporting earned him awards, but also invited controversy, particularly his coverage of the Syria conflict.
A fearless, bespectacled and cheerful personality bristling with energy, Fisk was often the first reporter to arrive at the scene of a story. He shunned email, smart phones and social media till the end, and strongly believed in the power of street reporting.
In 1982, he was one of the first journalists at the Sabra and Shatila camp in Beirut, where Christian militiamen slaughtered hundreds of Palestinian refugees. Earlier that year, he was also the first foreign journalist to report on the scale of the Hama massacre in 1982, when then-Syrian President Hafez Assad launched a withering assault on the rebellious city in central Syria, leveling entire neighborhoods and killing thousands in one of the most notorious massacres in the modern Middle East.
Fisk was in love with Beirut, the city he called home, sticking with it during the most difficult days of the 1975-90 civil war when foreign journalists fell victim to kidnappers. Back then, he used the offices of The Associated Press to file his stories during the war, where colleagues called him “the Fisk,” or “Fisky.”
In his book chronicling the war, Pity the Nation, he describes filing his dispatches by furiously punching a telex tape at the bureau, which he described as “a place of dirty white walls and heavy battleship-grey metal desks with glass tops and iron typewriters” and a “massive, evil-tempered generator” on the balcony.
“So sad to lose a true friend and a great journalist. The Temple of truth is gone,” said Marwan Chukri, director of the Foreign Press Center at the Information Ministry in Beirut.
Fisk gained particular fame and popularity in the region for his opposition to the Iraq war, challenging the official US government narrative of weapons of mass destruction as it laid the groundwork for the 2003 invasion.
He was one of the few journalists who interviewed Osama bin Laden several times. After the Sept. 11, 2011 attacks and the subsequent US invasion of Iraq, he traveled to the Pakistan-Afghan border, where he was attacked by a group of Afghan refugees.
He later wrote about the incident from the refugees’ perspective, describing his beating by refugees as a “symbol of the hatred and fury of this filthy war.”
“I realized – there were all the Afghan men and boys who had attacked me who should never have done so but whose brutality was entirely the product of others, of us — of we who had armed their struggle against the Russians and ignored their pain and laughed at their civil war,” he wrote.
His most controversial reporting, however, was on the conflict in Syria in the past decade. Fisk, who was often allowed access to government-held areas when other journalists were banished, was accused of siding with the government of President Bashar Assad and whitewashing crimes committed by Syrian security forces, most famously when he cast doubt on whether the government carried out chemical attacks against civilians in the Damascus suburb of Douma.
His deep attachment to Lebanon and its people consistently came through his writing. Following the massive explosion that tore through Beirut port on Aug. 4 and destroyed large parts of the city, he wrote a scathing article that summed up the country’s curse and corrupt political class.
“So here is one of the most educated nations in the region with the most talented and courageous — and generous and kindliest — of peoples, blessed by snows and mountains and Roman ruins and the finest food and the greatest intellect and a history of millennia. And yet it cannot run its currency, supply its electric power, cure its sick or protect its people,” Fisk wrote.
Fisk wrote several books, including “Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War” and “The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East.”
He is survived by his wife, Nelofer Pazira, a filmmaker and human rights activist.

Twitter faces a rocky path under Turkey’s new social media law

Twitter faces a rocky path under Turkey’s new social media law
In this file photo taken on October 26, 2020 shows the logo of US social network Twitter displayed on the screen of a smartphone and a tablet in Toulouse, southern France. (AFP)
Updated 19 January 2021

Twitter faces a rocky path under Turkey’s new social media law

Twitter faces a rocky path under Turkey’s new social media law
  • YouTube, Twitter and Facebook have faced fines in previous months for not complying with the new law

ANKARA: Turkey’s advertising ban for social media platforms with more than 1 million daily users that have failed to establish a local representative office in the country came into force on Tuesday.

As of Jan. 19, nobody will be allowed to advertise on Twitter, its live-streaming app Periscope and image-sharing app Pinterest, leading to a substantial loss of revenue for these platforms.

Their bandwidth will also be reduced by half in April and by 90 percent in May, leading ultimately to a total blocking of access.

On Monday, Facebook announced that it would appoint a local representative in Turkey, in compliance with the country's draconian social media law that has been criticized as a powerful instrument of state censorship of online content.

Facebook said that it might withdraw its local representative if he or she faced political pressure.

Last month, YouTube decided to abide by the new law that gives Turkish authorities the opportunity to remove so-called “sensitive” content from social media platforms rather than blocking access.

YouTube, Twitter and Facebook have faced fines in previous months for not complying with the new law.

“Advertising on Twitter hasn’t been very popular among advertisers. However, especially for NGOs and political parties, advertising on Twitter was thought to be a meaningful device,” Sarphan Uzunoglu, a digital communications expert from Istanbul Bilgi University, told Arab News.

Uzunoglu thinks that rather than classical market actors, governmental and non-governmental actors will be affected by this new situation while campaigning.

The Turkish government considers foreign social media platforms bypassing local oversight an example of “digital fascism.”

The new social media law will expose users to the risk of arbitrary arrest and prosecution over their online posting as their private data can be handed over to Turkish authorities on request.

Right defenders have asked all international social media companies that established a local representative office in Turkey to tell their users how their right to freedom of expression will be guaranteed.

Compared to other platforms that complied with the new law, Twitter’s share in the advertising market is limited, Uzunoglu said.

“However, Twitter is the most political platform among them and it is intensely used by journalists who are under the government’s oppression on a regular basis. So Twitter, in the end, is a battlefield. I find their decision to resist for now so valuable,” he said.

In Turkey, where the mainstream media is almost completely owned by pro-government conglomerates, social media platforms have become a frequent source of information for citizens, who also share their views on political issues.

According to the latest Dimensions of Polarization in Turkey 2020 Survey conducted by the German Marshall Fund of the United States and Istanbul Bilgi University, online news portals (57 percent), as well as Facebook and Twitter (36 percent), have turned into the primary information sources for Turks.

“This law and its application with these fines and bans are problematic,” Kemal Kumkumoglu, a lawyer specialized in digital technologies, told Arab News.

“First of all, this law does not provide a democratic aim or proportionate measures. For example, the provision which allows removing user content could be considered an Orwellian tool since it offers government (a way) to create a digital environment free from discussions or criticisms about the government actors or institutions,” he said.

On the other hand, for Kumkumoglu, although it is a legitimate expectation on the government’s side to appoint local representatives for social media platforms for law enforcement and taxation purposes, the path that the government has been following endangers the fundamental rights of citizens.

“This commercial ban and the potential cut on bandwidth will affect the freedom of expression and freedom of trade of the large portion of the population who enjoy these rights mainly with these platforms,” he said.

Twitter released its Transparency Report in January, in which Turkey was ranked as the world leader in the categories of combined requests, court orders and other legal demands, accounts specified for closure, and accounts and tweets withheld.

Kumkumoglu considers the social media law and its gradual implementation on social media platforms a “double-edged sword.”

“It is true that the citizens should not be left alone concerning the digital problems they encounter. However, pushing citizens into social media platforms that are put under the constant pressure of huge fines is not an ideal solution. The rule of law requires addressing such issues with a systematic and democratic approach, which is unfortunately not the case in Turkey.”

On tweets withheld by Twitter, Turkey still tops the list with 12,135 tweets out of 28,542 tweets withheld in 2020. This means almost 42 percent of the tweets withheld globally by Twitter came from Turkey last year.