Hezbollah, a U.S.-designated terror group, has forced a local Beirut television station called MTV to drastically cut a story about Hezbollah captives held by al-Nusra Front, a rival terrorist group essentially functioning as al-Qaeda in Syria. Hezbollah is the Lebanese-based, Iranian-funded Shi’ite Muslim “Party of God.”
According to NOW News, a Beirut-based Lebanese news site, Hezbollah pressured MTV to alter footage aired on Feb. 3, 2016. NOW reports that Lebanese journalist Carol Malouf had previously agreed with MTV to air 30 minutes of footage she recorded during a December 2015 visit to Syria. Malouf had lengthy interviews with two Hezbollah fighters held by al-Nusra. In Syria’s civil war, al-Nusra opposes and Hezbollah supports the regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad.
Malouf believes that somebody at the TV station leaked word of the footage to Hezbollah. The group then called Malouf, the presenter of the show, Walid Abboud, and the owner of MTV, Gabriel al-Murr.
Malouf said al-Murr was “literally” told “this interview does not serve the purpose of Hezbollah or MTV.”
“Following that call, Murr sought to axe the interview altogether….After lengthy debates…during which Malouf was also contacted by Hezbollah exerting further pressure, it was agreed that seven minutes of the less ‘controversial’ footage would be aired.”
Malouf believes that Hezbollah is concerned that airing footage of the captives “scares” the group. Indeed, there is reason to suspect that Hezbollah officials may be worried about morale—and not without reason. Counterterror analyst Matthew Levitt, who has written a book about Hezbollah, recently wrote in The Wall Street Journal:
“Hezbollah is facing hard times. Defending the Assad regime in Syria is a drain on personnel, funds, and military resources; it has produced losses on par with what the group suffered over 18 years of fighting Israel. Meanwhile, longtime sanctions and the decline in oil prices have led Iran to cut back support. The effects can be seen in Lebanon, where Hezbollah has cut salaries of some personnel, deferred payment to suppliers and slashed monthly stipends to allied parties (“The Crackdown on Hezbollah’s Financing Network,” Jan. 27, 2016).”
Nor is Hezbollah alone in such “news management.” Hamas, the U.S.-designated terror group that rules the Gaza Strip, uses violence to intimidate reporters. Writing in the U.K.-newspaper The Telegraph (“Hamas manipulated and intimidated the media in Gaza. Why was that kept from us?” Aug. 13, 2014), Alan Johnson, the editor of Fathom magazine and a senior research fellow at the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre has noted numerous examples of Hamas threatening journalists. Among them:
“Israeli filmmaker Michael Grynszpan described on Facebook an exchange he had with a Spanish journalist who had just left Gaza. ‘We talked about the situation there. He was very friendly. I asked him how come we never see on television channels reporting from Gaza any Hamas people, no gunmen, no rocket launcher, no policemen. He answered me frankly: ‘It’s very simple we did see Hamas people there launching rockets, they were close to our hotel, but if we ever dare pointing our camera on them they would simply shoot at us and kill us.’”
Johnson also noted that sometimes media manipulation by Hamas is less direct. For example, during the 2014 Israel-Hams war the Hamas Ministry of Interior provided Gaza Arabs with a video on “cautious and effective” social media engagement. It instructed, “Anyone killed or martyred is to be called a civilian from Gaza or Palestine, before we talk about his status in jihad or his military rank…Don’t forget to always add ‘innocent civilian’ or ‘innocent citizen’ in your description of those killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza.”
The same day that Hezbollah was forcing TV station edits, The Jerusalem Post reported that Hamas “blocked off the area…making sure that radio stations were not reporting details” of a collapse of a “terror tunnel” under construction, in which some workers died. Hamas uses tunnels to infiltrate Israel with the goal of kidnaping and murdering. (“Another Hamas Attack Tunnel Collapses in Gaza,” Feb. 4, 2016).
Terror groups and authoritarian governments routinely intimidate media to hide and distort reality from their own members, people they rule, foreign journalists and international opinion. It is incumbent upon the media to remind readers, listeners and viewers of the difference in trustworthiness of news from closed or partially-closed societies and from open ones.