Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Peter Greste case

There is a real sense of outrage in Australia over the sentencing of Peter Greste and his Al Jazeera colleagues. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop had this to say:

"The Australian government is shocked at the verdict in the Peter Greste case. We are deeply dismayed by the fact that a sentence as been imposed. We are appalled by the severity of it.

"It is hard to credit that court in this case could have reached this conclusion.

"The Australian government simply can not understand it based on the evidence presented in this case.

"Peter Greste is a respected Australian journalist, he was not there to support the Muslim brotherhood

"We respect the outcome of the recent elections in Egypt and will now initiate contact at the highest levels in the new Egyptian government to see whether we can gain some kind of intervention from the new government.

"I have spoken at length with Peter Greste’s parents. They are considering their legal options, including appeal options.

"We do not know how long an appeal process will take, but in the meantime, we will provide whatever consular assistance we can.

"We understand there have been some very difficult times and there has been a great deal of turmoil in Egypt. But this kind of verdict does nothing for Egypt’s claim to be transitioning to democracy.

"The Australia government urges Egypt to reflect on what message is being sent to the world.

"We are deeply concerned that this verdict is part of a broader attempt to muzzle the press freedom that upholds democracies around the world.

"I can not think what more we could have done. I am bitterly disappointed by the outcome."

Foreign Minister Bishops’ remarks were supported by all sections of Australian politics.

In other reported reaction, the Netherlands and the UK said they would summon the Egyptian ambassador over the sentencing. The Dutch foreign ministry said that the "minimum requirements for a fair trial were not met".

"I am appalled by the guilty verdicts handed down today against Egyptian and international journalists in Egypt," the UK foreign secretary, William Hague, said in a statement.

"I am particularly concerned by unacceptable procedural shortcomings during the trial process, including that key prosecution evidence was not made available to the defence team."

The Canadian ambassador David Drake, who attended the session for Fahmy, an Egyptian-Canadian, said there were many questions over the verdict.

"We are very disappointed," he said. "We are digesting this ... We don't understand this particular verdict.''

As you might expect, the twitter feeds ran hot with reactions from fellow reporters when the news first came out -  #petergreste and #freeajstaff provide examples. As one twitterer observed with a particularly Australian take, even kangaroos would be embarrassed by this result. The BBC provides an analysis of the hash tag traffic to this point.

The Egyptian Government has attempted to defend the decision:

“Egypt has strongly rejected foreign criticism of its judicial system and interference in its affairs after a court decision to sentence three al Jazeera journalists to seven years or more in jail raised an international outcry.

"The Egyptian foreign ministry strongly rejects any comment from a foreign party that casts doubt on the independence of the Egyptian judiciary and the justice of its verdicts," the foreign ministry said in a statement.”

I suppose that one could argue that there have been other travesties in show trials here and elsewhere, as well as other oppression of the press; this is a much retweeted example: “Rastakhiz@sedaye_iran I don't hear this much #FreeAJStaff outrage against #Iran regime which has made Iran into the biggest prison for journalists in the world.”  That said, it remains true when you strike at journalists in this way you are striking at the heart of an institution that we rely on the provide at least some protection against tyranny.


Anonymous said...

Jim I share your outrage, based upon my intimate knowledge of Egyptian laws, and complete familiarity with the political situation in the Middle East, and my general view that every Australian should be afforded the utmost possible help by our government - if newsworthy.

That said, it remains true when you strike at journalists in this way you are striking at the heart of an institution that we rely on the provide at least some protection against tyranny

Well, not so much. In fact, I'd call that complete BS.

ps hope the guy gets out; can't see how this is a national issue.

Jim Belshaw said...

kvd, please explain why you think that my comment is complete BS. That's an expression of opinion, but without evidence or amplification.

Anonymous said...

Lucky for Al J and its journalists that it provides zero news coverage on Zimbabwe. Ultimate totalitarianism pays off since because no foreign journalists report there, there is no news and ergo an almost benign resignation about Zimbabwe's affairs and international acceptance of the status quo.

On the other hand, notwithstanding Egypt's insupportable judicial process and the appalling plight of Peter Greste and his colleagues, the Egyptian military regime at least admits and licenses foreign journalists (even if it jails some of them). Had the Morsi regime survived, I doubt that greater freedoms would have prevailed.

Oh, and another thing .. Qatar (where Al J is based) isn't exactly a bastion of democracy and free speech. Whilst Al J purports to offer a comprehensive coverage of international events, it offers zero coverage on Qatar's domestic affairs. For instance, apart from denials, hardly a whimper on the 2022 FIFA scandal.

I wonder why reputable journalists continue to work for the faux BBC Al Jazeera English. It can't be for the climate in Doha. No doubt it's because the Emir and his cronies stuff their mouths with gold. Actually, apart from being so much more wealthy, Qatar isn't that much different from Zimbabwe.


PS I sincerely hope that Sisi will eventually have enough guts to intervene and pardon Peter Greste & Co!

Anonymous said...

Jim, I could just note that my view is basically "what DG just said", but I would add a few local points:

1) The wholly noble idea of a free press reporting without fear or favour is long gone - if it ever existed.
2) In order for anyone interested in a fair and balanced report on most items of significance it is now necessary in Australia to consume equal quantities of "information" provided by the two major news organisations, plus if possible, the ABC. And then you have to somehow read between what has been published to approach something like "truth".
3) For example, the RC into Trade Unions - some questions:
- when was the last time this featured in the ABC's prime news telecast? (I can't remember either)
- search it on Google. On any day you will find something like a mention or two on the ABC website; ditto for SMH and affiliates; but a deluge of articles from the DT, Oz, Fin Review.
4) It is an old but very accurate observation that a reader with intimate knowledge of a particular article's subject matter will regularly pick up both factual and interpretive errors in a news report of same - yet will somehow assume the total veracity of reportage on subjects with which he has no familiarity.
5) I would suggest there is no "institution" with or without a "heart" to be struck at. Instead, there are competing news businesses, each with their economic, cultural and political niches to protect and promote.
6) Your own post noted reports of other journos facing similar wrongful treatment. I agree this is equally shameful, but note that I had never heard of those situations - and by "heard" I mean unreported in our own press. Why is that?

I think the part of your post I italicised is a noble ideal, but I don't think it actually exists. Like DG I sincerely hope this specific jailing is quickly over - but that is just basic humanity, not some deep understanding of the issues surrounding either the journalists involved, or the news organisation, or their role (positive or otherwise) in the unrest in Egypt.

After all - to what would I turn to be fully appraised of the rights and wrongs?


Jim Belshaw said...

Good morning DG, kvd. I am going to respond in a full post because of the importance of the issue. Just too clear a few things out first.

First, it is not factually correct that AJ does not cover Zimbabwe. I counted eight stories over the last three months. Not a lot, but more than most. One of the reasons I do follow the AJ English edition is that their coverage of Africa is better.

Specifically for Zimbabwe, I follow http://www.zimbabwesituation.com/ rather than the main media. But its still reporting.

Second, I don't think country comparisons are very helpful: I would agree on Qatar and the regional political elements for example; Egypt may be bad as compared to Zimbabwe, but then modern Zimbabwe is something out of Kafka.

Third, the position of other journalists and indeed the overall dangers of the craft have been reported in Australia. However, the matter tends to come up in high profile cases such as the Timor executions by the Indonesians.

Anonymous said...

Jim, not to divert your further thoughts, but I thought I'd look at the AJ coverage. There actually seems to be five journalists, the other two having been held since last July-August, and one of whom is on a hunger strike - or was in early April 2014, which seems to be his latest mention.

As with most good news sites, AJ puts up a link to any name mentioned in an article, to access any further coverage. What I found surprising was the stats (AJ's own) for the individuals concerned:

1) The two detained July-August have 29 and 6
1) The two detained with Greste in December have 66 and 2.
3) Peter Greste has 239

Obviously there will be a lot of cross-referencing between the names, but one wonders how it is possible that only one journalist has generated such an abundance of references - particularly when compared to the earlier detained staff?

And then there's the rolling graphic which notes the number of days detained - it does not mention the two earlier detained at all.

I am making only the mild point that even AJ's own coverage seems to be spotty, inconsistent, on a subject which goes to the very heart of their ability to report the news.


Jim Belshaw said...

Now, kvd, you are mixing different issues here!

I saw the Peter Reith piece, I should put the link up, and thought that it was very silly.

On the journalist on the hunger strike, my memory is that he was released just recently on medical grounds after some 215 days.

I am not surprised at the number of Greste stories on the AL English channel. He was a major reporting face including African countries. Don't know about the others.

Point on the Australian journalist noted.

I am not going to try to bring up a full piece tonight. in my rarely observed publishing program on this blog, Wednesday is meant to be Australian life night and my mind is a blank! Perhaps James Busby?

Anonymous said...

"Don't know about the others"

Is exactly, and precisely stated, my point: we "know" only what we are told - with more filtration, and less taste (nuance) than the average takeaway coffee.


Anonymous said...

Jim, I have to disagree with you. Al J doesn't cover Zimbabwe. It selectively regurgitates agency and wire service reports on Z. Uncle Bob, of course, is an ardent Catholic. So, aside from the other practicalities, there is no Al J constituency in Zimbabwe.


Jim Belshaw said...

I will bow to you on this one, DG. kvd, one of the reasons for having a free and varied media of all types is just that, less filtration.

Anonymous said...

At the same time, it IS appropriate for our Government to intervene on Peter Greste's behalf as they should on behalf of any Australian suffering injustice abroad. That's what consular responsibilities are about.

On the news filtration front, that's exactly why blogs have been so successful. I think the Australian media has not exactly covered itself in glory over the last 10 years.

2 tanners

Anonymous said...

Jim, I have a sense that this discussion has reached its point of saturation, so I'd just make two further responses:

- to your own "one of the reasons for having a free and varied media of all types is just that, less filtration" leaves me with the impression that so long as we have a variety of biased (filtered) reports we are ok - never mind the actual truth of any matter?

- 2 tanners "because blogs" is somewhat removed from your initial highly idealistic view of "striking at the heart of an institution that we rely on the provide at least some protection against tyranny". Apart from that, I agree with the rest of the comment.

Anyway, on the particular re Peter Greste, I thought Waleed Aly's piece on the abandonment of principles was as good an opinion piece as I have read:


And no, I hadn't heard of the Al-J camerman held in Guantanamo Bay for six years either, and admit to having almost forgotten about our own press and government interaction with Mohamed Haneef.


Jim Belshaw said...

kvd, I agree with you re saturation, although your comments were helpful.

Now that I have the Busby post up,I will do a consolidation of the discussion.

Rummuser said...

There are undercurrents playing out in the Islamic world which will have serious implications for the non Islamic world in the next few years. In Iraq 150 odd Indians have been taken hostage by the ISIS and nobody knows as yet as to why. They were unskilled labour and not journalists. I think that all non Islamic countries should withdraw all their personnel from these countries till some sense of sanity comes about in that part of the world.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Ramana. The Australian media did refer to the Indian workers; I hadn't realised the numbers.

The situation in the Middle East is messy. According to newspaper reports, around 150 Australian are actually fighting in Syria on both sides.