Beirut’s Daily Star Responds

Defending their article about Lisa Goldman's "incursion" into Lebanon

Last Friday, I wrote about an article in Beirut’s Daily Star critical of Lisa Goldman, an Israeli journalist, who had taken a reporting trip to the country using her Canadian passport. Well, the Star sent us a response on behalf of its editorial staff and I thought it was worth posting:

The Columbia Journalism Review published an article by Gal Beckerman on July 20, 2007, entitled “An Israeli Reporter in Lebanon, No good deed goes unpunished,” that misrepresented a story that appeared on July 17, 2007, inThe Daily Star entitled, “Two Israeli journalists scrap ethics for scoop.” Beckerman’s article quoted The Daily Star as saying that Israeli blogger
Lisa Goldman, who prepared a report for Israel’s Channel 10 news from Lebanon, “not only broke Lebanese law but violated codes of ethics in journalism and endangered the lives of those interviewed.” The full sentence published in The Daily Star reads, “When two Israeli reporters
entered Lebanon under false pretenses last week to conduct reports on Lebanese life a year after the summer 2006 war with Israel, they not only broke Lebanese law, but also violated codes of ethics in journalism and endangered the lives of those they interviewed, according to professors and residents who spoke to The Daily Star Monday.” The sentence that Mr. Beckerman quoted in his article did not represent the views of The Daily Star, but rather those of the professors and residents interviewed by The Daily Star.

Mr. Beckerman also incorrectly asserts in his article that The Daily Star published a story “exposing her [Ms. Goldman] as an Israeli journalist.” The Daily Star would like to point out that Ms. Goldman herself revealed her nationality in her own report for Channel 10 News. Subsequently, Al-Manar, Al-Jazeera, and several Lebanese newspapers covered the story before The Daily Star’s article appeared in print.

Mr. Beckerman correctly points out that The Daily Star did not contact Ms. Goldman for an interview prior to publishing the story. The Daily Star would like to clarify that it would have been a violation of the law for us to contact Ms. Goldman for a response from Lebanon, which is still partially occupied by and in an official state of war with Israel. The Boycott of Israel law passed by the Lebanese Parliament on June 23, 1955, prohibits any contact or agreements with persons or entities of Israeli
nationality or those who reside in Israel. The penalty for violating the law is 3 to 10 years of imprisonment. Article 275 of the Lebanese penal code also prohibits any contact with “the enemy” to assist its military forces. Again, because Lebanon is in an official state of war with Israel,
contact with citizens of Israel constitutes a legal breach. Violation of Article 275 is punishable by death. There have also been thousands of cases in the Lebanese court system of Lebanese citizens being prosecuted under existing laws for having made contact with Israeli citizens. Given these
legal restrictions, The Daily Star did not attempt to contact Ms. Goldman.

More importantly, The Daily Star did not view it as necessary to contact Ms. Goldman, because the angle of the story was explicitly defined as the impact of her visit on Lebanon, and reactions on the Lebanese street. Perhaps no media outlet in Lebanon is better positioned to gauge those reactions than The Daily Star, an independent newspaper, which has long been headquartered in Gemmayzeh, a neighborhood whose attributes and residents Ms. Goldman filmed and publicized in her television report.

The Daily Star would also like to point out that our reporter, Nour Samaha, 24, conducted interviews in three separate neighborhoods of Beirut. Although she did not include Ms. Goldman’s responses to the allegations against her for the reasons previously stated, Samaha did show balance in the reactions that she presented in her report, and included quotes from two professors whose opinions on the matter were contradictory: Magda Abu-Fadil, the director of the journalism program at the American University of Beirut, stated that it is “unethical” for a reporter to conceal her identity when conducting an interview, whereas Ramez Maluf, a professor of journalism at the Lebanese American University, said that when invoking some higher moral objective, “you may excuse yourself from breaking any rules.”

Mr. Beckman [sic] also falsely stated that Ms. Goldman “was described in the piece” as a “Jewish reporter.” In fact, the word “Jewish” appears nowhere in the text of the published article. However, the sub-headline of the article reads, “Jewish reporter endangers lives of those interviewed under false pretenses.” The Daily Star would like to apologize for any misunderstanding that this headline may have caused and to clarify that the paper’s editorial policy is to reflect our staff’s deep respect for both the religion of Judaism and people of the Jewish faith. The Daily Star would also like to remind readers that Judaism is one of Lebanon’s 18 officially recognized sects, and that Ms. Goldman herself published images of the country’s synagogues.

Finally, The Daily Star affirms that it stands by the accuracy of its original reporting and reassures our readers that we will continue to present fair and balanced coverage of the visit by Ms. Goldman and her colleague, as both street- and ministerial-level discussions about the
issue continue.

Their whole argument against Goldman — as I stated in the earlier post — is premised on the fact that it is illegal to talk to Israelis (which, we are now informed, is punishable by death). But it’s strange that the Daily Star takes such a hard line on respecting this law — even admitting it was the reason they couldn’t call Lisa for comment — because the paper breaks this injunction everyday on its op-ed pages. Just in the past two days, they have run pieces by Yossi Alpher, described in their bio for him as “an adviser to former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak” and Shlomo Avineri, a one time Knesset member, who the Daily Star points out was “ a former director-general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry.” Could they have contracted these writers without contacting them? How were they able to call or email Shlomo Avineri but not Lisa Goldman? Is Lisa endangering lives any more than the editors at the Daily Star are?

Hypocrisy is annoying. But there is also a bigger, sadder point. One would hope that journalists, instead of standing behind this idiotic law, would instead admit that it violates the very principles of openness that should be at the center of any professional reporter’s value system.

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Gal Beckerman is a former staff writer at CJR.