Peter Greste addresses the National Press Club in Canberra.
Peter Greste is a brave, hardworking reporter, dedicated to telling the truth.
I have endless admiration for the men and women, like Greste, willing to risk their lives to report from countries whose default position is that journalists are criminals. More than 200 of them are in jail today.
And you need to add to that mix the threat of angry locals — often armed — and their insolubly complex web of hatreds, alliances and hopes.
Especially in the Middle East where locals are fed a treacherous diet of fiction, forgery and falsehoods dressed up as news.
This poisonous deceit serves two purposes: It helps justify actions that would otherwise be subject to considered intellectual challenge; and it fires up uneducated local youths to act as unwitting foot soldiers in battles they barely comprehend.
And beating at the dark heart of the Middle East’s media is Al Jazeera — Greste’s employer in Egypt.
It is always the worst of journalism that makes you value the best; and Al Jazeera — dressed up (particularly in the English-language broadcasts) as an independent voice of reason, is journalism at its worst.
There are flakier, more overtly hostile “news” outlets in the region, particularly those associated with the Palestinian Authority, which preach, for example, that Jews are swine-like subhumans to be exterminated.
From the outside, they look and sound absurd, almost satirical; but, crude as they are, they are a vital cog in the indoctrination of young locals and are a key plank in terrorist recruitment.
Working together, they help keep the area’s nations unstable and on a perennial war footing.
Al Jazeera’s role in all this is vital. That’s why it was founded in 1996 by Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, whose reputation for trustworthiness was perhaps undermined when, in a bloodless coup the year before, he ousted the former Emir of Qatar — his father.
That Al Jazeera had its own message and was a player and not just reporting from the sidelines was fully understood by Osama bin Laden who favoured the broadcaster with his regular updates tormenting and threatening Israel and the West.
And Bin Laden would have loved Al Jazeera’s coverage of the homecoming of Lebanese child-killer Samir Al-Quntar in 2008 — a hero to the network. This showed Al Jazeera’s true colours.
Al-Quntar is one of the most feared terrorists in the world. Among his many crimes was the kidnap and murder of Danny Haran and his four-year-old daughter, Einet. Entering Israel from Lebanon, Al-Quntar grabbed Danny and Einet as hostages but with his dinghy disabled, found himself stranded on the beach.
Al-Quntar shot Danny and, in front of his child, drowned him.
What he then did to the whimpering child — who raised her little arms in an effort to protect herself — cannot be published in a responsible newspaper. [He murdered the child by smashing her head against a rock - SL]....
Her sister, Yael, 2, was accidentally suffocated by her mother who was trying to keep the young girl quiet as they hid from the terrorists.
Al-Quntar and his mates were captured and jailed. For this, the Achille Lauro cruise liner was hijacked in 1985 and a disabled passenger, Leon Klinghoffer, was shot in the temple and thrown overboard with his wheelchair. Arab authorities announced that Mrs Klinghoffer had murdered her husband for the insurance money.
In the end, Israel — as indebted to its brave soldiers as we are to ours — agreed to trade Al-Quntar for the bodies of two of its abducted and murdered men.
Predictably, Al-Quntar returned to Lebanon a hero with street marches — soon stating that he hoped to have the opportunity soon to kill more Israelis, indeed, all of them.
He also received an Order of Merit personally presented by Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Most astonishing, he appeared at a surprise birthday party hosted on air by ... Al Jazeera!
Calling Al-Quntar an Arab hero, the network’s bureau chief organises a band, fireworks and a cake that he made Al-Quntar cut with an Arab sword. Little Einet was never mentioned.
Al Jazeera’s sins against journalism are many and varied.
Just last month, it stated that, while once-in-a-century rains fell on the area, Israel had opened up dams in its south to flood Gaza.
Israel has no such dams. It never happened. The Palestinians made it up and that was good enough for some.
In his address at the National Press Club, Greste mentioned Al Jazeera once, and only in passing.
Like every other Australian, I agree with Greste’s calls for greater protection of journalists and hope for more freedom in reporting the facts from dangerous places.
But I reckon he missed an excellent opportunity to give some advice for young, ambitious journalists.