More on Egyptian Interview of Gilad Shalit

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iMediaethics wrote in late October about criticism of Egyptian journalist Shahira Amin’s interview with Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier released after five years imprisonment by Hamas. As we wrote, Shalit reportedly didn’t have a say in whether he was interviewed and Amin’s questions were criticized for being propagandistic.

Since then, journalist Richard Behar and Columbia Journalism Review have weighed in on the interview and Amin has again defended her interview in an open letter to the Jerusalem Post.  And, we’ve heard back from Amin, who offered more information on the interview and her response to the criticism.

Richard Behar for Forbes: Shalit Didn’t see a Red Cross Doctor before Interview

Behar sent iMediaEthics his Oct. 26 article for Forbes on Amin’s interview with Shalit.  (Related: Media Bistro’s TV Newser published Behar’s e-mail to Amin in which Behar told Amin “I have never been more repulsed by an ‘exclusive’ TV-news interview” and questioned her “decency” and training.)

Behar argued that two key questions and issues in the interview lie in “Shalit’s medical condition (physical and mental)” and the presence of a “masked Hamas soldier” during the interview. Specifically, Behar questioned Amin’s defense of the interview bcause while she claimed Shalit had a “medical checkup by the Red Cross” before the interview, Behar reported that a Red Cross spokesperson, Hicham Hassan, hadn’t “met” with a doctor from the Red Cross. Hassan told Behar that Shalit was “met..briefly” by the Red Cross.

Behar questioned Amin’s telling Shalit that he looked “fine” in the interview, even while admitting after the fact quite the opposite was true. As has been much reported, Shalit’s body language and physical condition display him looking weak and confused.

Behar also cited the opinions of Dr. Nancy Zarse and Gene Foreman on the interview. Behar identified Zarse as “an expert in hostage negotiations for the FBI, federal prisons, and the Chicago Police.”

Zarse analyzed the video interview and concluded that while she hasn’t “met or spoken with” Shalit, she thinks that he likely “still feels captive” in the interview and at times “scared.”   Foreman, author of The Ethical Journalist: Making Responsible Decisions in the Pursuit of News, told Behar that he didn’t think Shalit was physically able to have the interview.

“The Geneva Conventions of 1949 have long been used to protect the human dignity of current and former war prisoner,” Behar wrote.  Behar noted that even though ” those laws apply to governments, and not media organizations, keep in mind that the Shalit interview was conducted for Egyptian state TV – an arm of government.”

Behar also questioned why Amin asked if Shalit would “help campaign for the release of the 4,000 Palestinian prisoners still languishing in Israeli prisons.”  According to Behar, Amin told him “she ‘had’ to ask that question” but didn’t explain further.  (In an e-mail to StinkyJournalism, Behar told StinkyJournalism that he hadn’t heard back from Amin with any explanation.)

iMediaEThics wrote to Behar asking what prompted his interest in Amin’s interview.  He told iMediaEthics by e-mail that

“For one thing, the financing of terrorism was a topic I probed at one time for Fortune and CNN.  I think that experience, plus the unimaginable barbarity of holding a hostage for five years, made me pay closer attention to Shalit’s release than I normally would have.   And when I watched Amin’s ‘interview’ with him, I found it journalistically terrifying.

“All reporters have to make peace with what they do — or decline to do. In Amin’s stead, I would have taken one glance at Shalit and decided that my career didn’t need that kind of a scoop.”

Behar also pointed to Columbia Journalism Review’s Oct. 27 article on the interview here.

CJR:  Interview is “One Part Journalism, Two Parts Propaganda”

CJR suggested that “when considering the ethics of the Shalit interview it might be useful to separate the ethics of doing the interview from the ethics of how the interview was conducted.”  CJR slammed Amin’s questions (commenting that they “ranged from the illogical to the ridiculous”) and questioned double-standards on reporting on the Middle East, but ultimately called it propaganda.

“It was a classic performance by an Arab state broadcaster: one part journalism, two parts propaganda,” CJR concluded.

Amin Responds to iMediaEthics

iMediaEthics wrote to Amin to see if she had any response to the criticism of her interview, specifically Behar’s and CJR‘s.  She wrote in an e-mail to iMediaEthics that:

“I am actually tired of defending myself over the Shalit interview.”

Concerning Behar’s reporting for Forbes that Shalit hadn’t seen a Red Cross doctor before the interview, Amin claimed she wasn’t let in the interview room until Shalit met with the Red Cross and contacted his family.  She wrote that “I only entered the room AFTER the two Red Cross medics had gone in and left. I even asked one of them about Shalit’s health as they left the room but he said he was not allowed to comment.”  Shalit’s appearance and lack of physical strength in the interview has also been criticized, but Amin commented that

“I thought that by showing Shalit in his frail condition, viewers would see that all sides are paying the price for this conflict. It is the hardliners on both sides (whether in Egypt or Israel ) who fail to see the interview as a peace overture.”

Amin rejected accusations of propaganda in this interview or in her career, noting that she quit her job at Egypt’s Nile TV earlier this year because of propaganda at the station.  She added that since then, she has “broken the story on the virginity tests carried out on female protesters in Tahrir after getting the first admission from a senior military general that the tests were carried out” and that she had the exclusive in interviewing blogger Maikel Nabil in jail.   With that in mind, she wrote why she asked if Shalit, who she commented is “only one Israeli prisoner but there are thousands of Palestinians languishing in Israeli jails,”  would campaign for other prisoners:

“So my question on why Shalit thought mediation efforts had succeeded this time round where they had failed before was a very valid and legitimate question. I was not trying to fish for compliments for the authorities although I firmly believe that their role in securing Shalit’s release does deserve a mention. It is after all an achievement. The previous regime made promises for five years but failed to deliver every single time!”

Amin noted that she has been working for “state TV since April but not to spend propaganda lies.” Instead, she argued that her role on state TV — through her weekly program — is independent and that she has “total control over the content of my show” as she is both host and producer.  “If you want to effect change in your society, you need to have a voice locally,” she added.

Amin also reiterated that she wouldn’t have interviewed Shalit if he had said no to her. She wrote:

“I had a scoop that no other journalist would want to pass by but again had Shalit said he could not do it, I would not have pressed him. The interview was broadcast unedited and you can hear my voice on the tape in Arabic telling the translator I would skip some questions because i felt he was in no condition to continue. The translator then answers telling me to ask the questions in the right order so as not to confuse him! I however ignored his request and did not keep Shalit long because I did see that Shalit was exhausted from his ordeal and his voice was faint . I was not ‘brutal and insensitive’  as some media said. In fact I reached out and took his hand several times (they were icy cold). I have two kids his age and as a mother and a human being, I could only feel compassion for him.

“When Egyptian media accused me of being too soft with him, I responded that it is no crime to be human.”

In closing, Amin argued that she thinks she was objective in her interview and noted that she conducted the interview as “an attempt to diffuse tensions at a time of high anti Israeli sentiment.”  She also called for the interview and its controversy to be “behind us.”  Amin wrote:

“I have been called a traitor in Egypt and have been accused of wanting to make a hero out of Shalit. It was an emotional moment for all and I believe that when the dust settles, more and more people will see things in their real perspective: that without communication we will always have this barrier of  hatred and mistrust between us. So let us put it behind us and move forward.”

Amin’s October “Open Letter” on the Interview

The Jerusalem Post also published an “open letter” from Amin about the interview. She opened her letter commenting on Shalit’s personal appearance: “When I met Gilad Shalit I found he looked terribly tired and malnourished. He was thinner than pictures I had seen of him and pale.  His voice was weak and he seemed to have difficulty concentrating but was in high spirits telling me he was excited about going home and seeing his family.”

She denied any knowledge of his being forced to do the interview.  She said she, Shalit and a Hamas soldier tapiing the interview were the only ones there.

According to Ahram, Amin said she “improvised” her “first questions for Shalit.”  She rejected claims that she asked “Questions written by the Egyptian intelligence.”

The Sydney Morning Herald reported Oct. 20 that Egypt’s state TV news director Khaled Mehanna defended the interview saying ”When a scoop like this comes our way, should we leave it?”

Amin added:

“It is my honour that the Israeli media described me as an enemy of Israel. In order not to be provocative, I was balanced in the interview between the Palestinian side, by highlighting the Palestinian tragedy, my country, that played the main role in the deal, and Shalit, whom I interviewed from a human and professional perspective.”

She argued that Shalit would have remained silent in the interview if he didn’t consent to the interview.


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