When Turkish businessman Aydin Tufan traveled to Beirut Wednesday, he must have had no idea his face would be on national television hours later. Local television channels LBCI and Al-Jadeed interviewed Tufan under duress in an apartment in the Beirut neighborhood of Roueiss hours after masked gunmen snatched him shortly after his arrival in the country.
Tufan is the lone Turk among a group of Syrians kidnapped Wednesday and is currently being held by the Meqdad family in a move the family describes as retaliation for the kidnapping of a relative in Syria earlier this week.
During a news conference at the Meqdad residence in Roueiss, Tufan’s passport was passed around the journalists present and displayed live on LBCI and Al-Jadeed.
Given the opportunity, journalists raced to interview Tufan in the room where he is held captive against his will and under the threat of arms.
The first footage of the Meqdads’ kidnap victims was aired by the newly opened Al-Mayadeen satellite channel.
While the media’s “exclusive scoops,” as they are described, attracted large audiences both in Lebanon and abroad, academics and press freedom organizations have denounced the media’s attitude over the past several days, saying the behavior is unethical and demonstrates a profound lack of professionalism.
“This is a big scandal,” said Nabil Dajani, professor of media studies and sociology at the American University of Beirut.
“It is clear by all standards that the media lacks ethics and professionalism,” Dajani told The Daily Star Friday. He described the media as “rabble rousers,” and issued a reminder that journalists have social responsibilities.
“In times of crisis, a journalist has a social responsibility, but what they were doing was simply agitation,” he said.
Such agitation was evident in the case of the 11 Lebanese pilgrims kidnapped in Syria back in May.
An unconfirmed report of the pilgrims’ deaths as a result of military strikes in Azaz near the Syrian city of Aleppo left many families mourning until another unconfirmed report refuted their deaths.
Alongside the interviews with the kidnapped foreigners in Lebanon, almost all local media outlets were reporting unverified information on the fate of the pilgrims in Syria, with no official to confirm any of the accounts.
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah also criticized the media’s attitude in a speech Thursday.
“The attitude of some reporters was tragic and disastrous,” said Nasrallah.
Media analyst Sarah Richani said that the media is sometimes giving a platform to those who are inciting sectarian hatred in the country.
As former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once said, publicity acts as oxygen for terrorism, and Richani echoed this sentiment, saying that the strong media coverage of the kidnappings in Beirut quickly resulted in the evacuation of many foreigners, mainly from the Gulf, from Lebanon.
Richani said that reporting mistakes resulted in spreading fear among many tourists visiting the country.
“Some media outlets reported that there will be kidnappings of tourists from the Gulf and then the next day they refuted their own report ... But it was too late, everyone was leaving already,” she added.
According to Richani, recent media behavior has lacked credibility because many have failed to run adequate fact checks before broadcasting a story.
Yellow journalism has advanced many armies’ interests throughout history, but in everyday news, it has faced criticism for its sensationalism and exaggerating of news events.
The Information Ministry and National Audiovisual Media Council called for a meeting with all media outlets next Friday to stress the need for the media to play a positive and professional role in reporting the news.
“Freedom of the Press is a sacred freedom ... but we have realized that there was no reporting of news [Wednesday] but fabrication and the making of news,” Information Minister Walid Daouk said Thursday.
Richani said that many journalists do not have the freedom to report in a professional way because media outlets are subject to the whims of their owners.
Richani added that there was very little for journalists to carry out their social responsibility and bypass their organizations’ political directors while remaining within the media outlet.
“We hope they can exercise some restraint in coverage and report professionally because we are at a time when Lebanon is at the brink,” Richani said.
Samir Kassir Eyes Foundation and Media Against Violence called on journalists and media outlets to differentiate between reporting and inciting sectarian strife.
SKeyes executive director Ayman Mehanna denounced the interviewing of kidnapped individuals in Lebanon.
“People in custody of the armed men are not free to say what they want to say ... You have to inform the police and contribute to their release instead of interviewing them,” said Mehanna.
Mehanna said that the amount of unconfirmed reports that local media outlets aired in the past several days was outrageous.
“It has been so casual to report on a ‘possible’ shooting incident ... the media cannot be casual in reporting that someone was shot without confirming the report,” he said.
The developments of the past few days have also pushed MTV television reporters back to broadcasting on roadblocks, particularly on the Airport Road.
After almost two months of boycotting roadblocks and burning tires by protesters, sources at MTV said that the news team covered the incidents Wednesday due to the emergency nature of the situation.
“But we are not going back on our policy, we will refuse to cover any such scenarios again, but what happened Wednesday was important for the viewers to see,” the source said.