Soon after the shots rang out on Sunday night, local TV channel Al Jadeed rushed to the scene when most other local stations were fast asleep. Through a series of rooftop and street side cameras, Al Jadeed delivered gripping coverage of the clashes, providing a close-up view of the shadowy combatants that terrorized neighborhood residents for hours. This came in stark contrast to other local stations which opted to air soap operas or reruns, including Future News, a supposedly a 24 hour news station.
On Al Jadeed, the streets were ablaze with explosions and automatic weapons fire while on Future “News,” which is owned by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, an animated chef discussed his cooking technique:
Last night, Al Jadeed did it again after a busload of Lebanese had reportedly been “kidnapped” near Aleppo, Syria on their return route from a religious pilgrimage in Iraq. The abduction was the work of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), state-owned Syria TV reported. It said the women of the group were set free while the men would be held hostage.
The FSA denied any involvement in the kidnapping claiming it was staged by the regime. But bolstering its story, Syria TV interviewed several of the women who were transferred to Damascus before being flown back home to Beirut. All confirmed they had been captured by FSA rebels, and many said they were treated harshly. One articulate woman spoke for several minutes condemning the FSA repeatedly:
“They want freedom” she asked. “This is not freedom, these are people who want to destroy their country”
As the women boarded a plane home, Al Jadeed rushed to the Beirut airport to get its own coverage of the story:
Reporter Nawal Berri (above) pushed her microphone through the crowds to get as many interviews as possible with the witnesses:
She persistently asked each passenger if they could identify the assailants, and in contrast to what was reported by state TV, many interviewed said they were not abused in any way by the captors, whom had not identified themselves as members of any armed group. The handful that did confirm the assailants were FSA described them as wearing military clothing, while others said the men wore civilian clothes. One woman pilgrim said she had only heard about the FSA through television reports.
While on air, both Berri, the reporter, and news anchor George Saliba made the obvious conclusion that the victims’ stories did not match.
Meanwhile regime supportive channels in Lebanon (OTV and Al Manar) sent their own reporters to the airport. But there was far less discrepancy in the stories they filed. Their interviews seemed to confirm those of Syrian State media and news anchors concluded, without a shred of doubt, that the FSA were the perpetrators.
Other stations ignored the events altogether such as popular local news channel MTV, which aired a Texas Hold’em poker match instead:
But in another move that is rare in Lebanese television news, Al Jadeed stuck with the story. The next day reporter Berri was back on the streets to interview the women again upon news that one of them had identified her captor by name as an FSA commander.
The reporter could not find the name the woman had mentioned but printed out a photo of an FSA commander with a similar sounding name, which was actually FSA spokesman, Ammar Al Wawi, who has been very visible in the press.
“That’s him,” the women confirmed repeatedly, despite the fact the image belonged to a different name. “He is a member of the FSA, right?”
Following the report, Al Jadeed phoned Al Wawi who denied the woman’s story, saying he was based in Damascus, miles away from Aleppo:
Whatever the truth is behind this reported abduction, viewers will likely appreciate that Al Jadeed and its intrepid reporters have stuck with the story. Of course the channel has its share of problems. They have often have terrible production problems, especially with audio, and some of their packages are superficial if not propagandistic. But throughout the recent turmoil, whether it is making phone calls or broadcasting live from a dangerous place, Al Jadeed have clearly been working hard to get answers from several sources, while other channels are happy to either toe the regime line or just ignore the news altogether.