Hezbollah fears its captives

It doesn’t matter whether the captive is a fighter or a civilian, as balance between freedom of speech and hostages’ rights and protecting them is essential

Diana Moukalled
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Last week, Hezbollah pressured local Lebanese television station MTV to cut footage of its interviews with three Hezbollah fighters who are held captive by al-Nusra Front. It’s therefore useful to recall similar incidents which took place over the past few years.

In 2004, press ethics regarding captives did not prevent Hezbollah from allowing its media to interview Israeli officer Elhanan Tannenbaum, whom the party held captive at the time and who was later released as part of a prisoner swap.

At the time, Hezbollah made an effort to show that it treated its captives - who it says are affiliated with the “Israeli enemy” - well. A few days ago, al-Nusra Front did the same exact thing when it allowed Lebanese reporter Carol Maalouf to interview the Hezbollah members it holds captive. This interview included efforts to imply that al-Nusra is treating the hostages well.

In the first case, Hezbollah thought allowing its Israeli captive to be interviewed as a propaganda strategy was justified. In al-Nusra’s case, Hezbollah was confused and it pressured the station to not broadcast the interview with the three captives.

Backing down

MTV backed down following the intimidation and only aired a few minutes of the pre-agreed upon footage.

It doesn’t matter whether the captive is a fighter or a civilian, as balance between freedom of speech and hostages’ rights and protecting them is essential

Diana Moukalled

However, these are not the only incidents of this kind. In the past few years, we’ve witnessed many interviews carried out with captives - whether military servicemen or civilians - in Syria and Lebanon. Media outlets competed over a scoop without caring much about ethics, which are essential when it comes to such interviews.

Reporters and media figures thus played the role of the investigator and the political and moral reference.

For example, interviews with many captives were held upon Hezbollah’s support and approval. I am referring to those held with the Lebanese pilgrims who were abducted in the Syrian town of Azaz by a Syrian opposition faction.

At the time, some Lebanese people responded to this abduction by kidnapping Turks, Syrians and even other Lebanese citizens. Members of the Lebanese al-Moqdad family, which is close to Hezbollah and which seemed to be in control of security and media coverage, allowed several reporters and journalists to meet their captives and interview them in a very humiliating manner.

Back then, Hezbollah did not prevent any station from broadcasting these interviews. On the contrary, it seemed to approve these abductions and these interviews as well as the marginalization of legal principles and human rights.

Propaganda purposes

The professional problem related to interviewing prisoners did not push Hezbollah to discuss the rights of captives or to realize its sin of exploiting its cause for propaganda.

The moral and ethical content when it comes to media outlets interviewing war prisoners is problematic. However, the major standard here is the humanitarian interest of the captive themselves and the extent of confusion which can be caused by information revealed at a time when the abductor uses these interviews for propaganda purposes.

It doesn’t matter whether the captive is a fighter or a civilian, as balance between freedom of speech and hostages’ rights and protecting them is essential. This is the general rule. However all the aforementioned cases did not respect this principle.

Hezbollah was the first to violate these ethical standards. The group’s fury over that MTV interview is not because it wants to protect its kidnapped members or defend their rights and interests.

The problem is that this interview, regardless of its content and whether the captives’ statements are sincere or being made under pressure, enables Hezbollah to make its agenda tolerated on political, security and moral fronts.

Ever since the party began fighting in Syria alongside the Assad regime, it has imposed a media blackout on its involvement in the war there. Hezbollah wants to keep this status quo, and it even wants all the funerals for the fighters who died in Syria to remain quiet.

Hezbollah wants to continue preventing the media from talking to these fighters’ families and wants the shattered homes to settle with grieving and lamenting their loss without much fuss in the media.

Morally speaking, one cannot overcome the circumstances of the interview with Hezbollah’s captives or settle with its content; however, Hezbollah’s panic and pressure on the television station are what actually require questioning and shedding light on.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Feb. 8, 2016.

Diana Moukalled is the Web Editor at the Lebanon-based Future Television and was the Production & Programming Manager with at the channel. Previously, she worked there as Editor in Chief, Producer and Presenter of “Bilayan al Mujaradah,” a documentary that covers hot zones in the Arab world and elsewhere, News and war correspondent and Local news correspondent. She currently writes a regular column in AlSharq AlAwsat. She also wrote for Al-Hayat Newspaper and Al-Wasat Magazine, besides producing news bulletins and documentaries for Reuters TV. She can be found on Twitter: @dianamoukalled.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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