I will never forget November 22, 1989. That day, I was on my way to the Reuters office in Beirut to hand in a short article on the anniversary of Lebanon’s Independence Day. Suddenly, about 100 meters ahead, a huge explosion took place right in front of me. Because of my prior experience volunteering with the Lebanese Red Cross, I headed directly to the center of the blast to tend to the wounded.
Mere moments before the Syrian army cordoned off the area, I found myself alone examining the identity cards of the victims. I noticed that the targeted individual in this operation was then- Lebanese President René Moawad – his lifeless body lying on the ground outside his car.
After the arrival of the ambulance, I had no other choice but to sneak out of the siege to write, amidst the crowd and chaos, an article for The New York Times titled “Lebanon’s President Killed As Bomb Rips His Motorcade.” I sent it to the newspaper while the country’s political powers sought not to confirm the news in order to buy time and arrange for an alternate to take over the presidential seat.
I was the only journalist who witnessed the assassination of the president while all the Lebanese politicians tried to deny what I saw. The editor-in-chief of The New York Times refused to publish the article and asked for official verification. I struggled hard to acquire this, sifting through my contacts and networks to obtain verification, but to no avail. I confirmed to the editor that I was at the incident and saw it with my own eyes, but that was not enough — “perhaps your eyes have betrayed you,” he told me. This came when no local or international news agencies confirmed the news of the president’s assassination. In the perception of the editor, press is the process of confirming the news, not merely writing it.
From 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., my attempts to confirm the news did not stop until I finally received it from the prime minister’s office. I immediately passed it on to the editor to be published on the front page of The New York Times and, for the first time, my name was written as the source and the writer.
The next day, when the newspaper was published, the editor called me and said: “Today, you are a real journalist.”
I framed the page and hung it in every office I took over. It reminded me of my responsibility as a journalist when I was a reporter at The Times of London and at The German Press Agency (DPA) in the 1990a. It accompanied me throughout my work in establishing the Future TV network and Zen television channel. I carried it along with me to Dubai where my career developed when I was assigned the mission of re-launching the channels of Dubai Media Incorporated by the UAE’s Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
This front page remains in my office in MBC to this day, where my days pass as a general director of the channels. It supports me in my biggest challenges as the supervisor of media content planning for the most influential Arab TV channels in the Arab world.
Many years have passed and I continue to tell my story to journalism students at the Mohammed Bin Rashid School for Communication. I have narrated it in all my lectures around the world, assuring that, based on experience, journalism is a noble profession that requires great accountability. Thus, we must exercise caution in all what we write and publish. Our primary responsibility is to confirm the news and its authenticity before transmitting it to the reader, as well as to avoid harming people. We must always strive to reconcile these two principles despite the challenges that such a reconciliation may sometimes bring.
By: Ali M. Jaber
Dean of Mohammed Bin Rashid School for Communication at the American University in Dubai
Director of MBC TV Group