The Free Patriotic Movement’s virtual news outlet, Tayyar.org, appears to have a history of manipulating the text of the news stories it features. I first noticed this when I visited the website to check out its articles on the numbers it gave for Minister of Industry Pierre Gemayel’s funeral. The website featured an article which it cited from CNN.com titled “Sources: 200,000 at Gemayel Funeral.” I found this number highly puzzling, especially because I had been down myself and although there were clearly not one million people, there were over 500,000 demonstrators. I checked CNN to search for the original article and found only one article mentioned on the website titled “Funeral for Lebanese minister turns into anti-Syria rally” that attributed the numbers to be in the “hundreds of thousands.” Never did CNN mention the number 200,000. Additionally, when quoting the speeches of the March 14 leaders, the website did not feature those of Samir Geagea.
After this incident, I began to think back on the various articles I had read in Tayyar.org and remembered the articles it featured on why Hezbollah had won the July War. The stories were extremely poor in quality with loop-holed arguments. However, the fact that the list of such articles trailed down the website was believed to be the key to the website’s legitimacy: quantity and not quality appears to be what matters in journalism.
However, the article that got me to write this post was titled “US to beef the military of Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, who has expressed fears of an attempted Syrian-backed coup” published on December 15, 2006. The article was cited as written by the AFP with the AFP.com logo appearing below the article title. I searched the article on AFP’s website and found no results. I searched for the article on the AP’s website just in case the website had incorrectly cited the wrong news agency. Again, no results. I finally found something on NaharNet which featured a similarly worded article titled: “Rice Says U.S. Will Beef Up the Lebanese Army.”
I then checked the US Department of State’s website and found mention of Rice’s commitment to presenting an aid package that would increase the Lebanese Army’s resources. Tayyar.org is apparently uninterested in its journalistic legitimacy. Calling the Lebanese Army “the military of Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora” is very simply unacceptable. The lack of ethics involved in legitimizing a tayyar-created title by claiming its source to be an international, and therefore legitimate, source is beyond inappropriate. I check Tayyar.org everyday because it is tells me exactly what Aoun and his supporters think. Today, I know what they think of the Lebanese Army. They consider it to be an army under the tutelage of Seniora and not one that serves the Lebanese people and its flag. This is very interesting to note, especially coming from a party whose head was once the Commander in Chief of this Lebanese Army back in the 1980s.
I contacted the AFP’s Beirut Bureau Chief, Henri Maamarbachi, to check the legitimacy of the article featured in Tayyar.org and got some very interesting feedback. Maamarbachi stated that once a newspaper article is published, anyone has the right to take pieces of this article and use it to further a particular claim. “There is technically nothing illegal with doing so, however, depending on the case, it could be considered unprofessional.” In response, I gave him the analogy of a researcher who cites extracts from existing literature to further an argument. This, is of course fair, as long as proper citation methodology is followed. However, what about when a researcher takes a quote from a book he finds, manipulates the quote, and still claims that this quote was found in that particular book and written by that particular author without acknowledging that he/she touched it? Maamarbachi replied that this was not professional and unfair. He stated that there is a difference between “omitting” information and actually altering text.
Maamarbachi gave the example of NaharNet saying that when Naharnet.com publishes one of AFP’s articles, it cites AFP as the source without touching its content. “This is the deal we made with NaharNet,” explains Maamarbachi. “It is not the AFP’s language to use words like ‘military of the Lebanese Prime Minister.’ We say ‘Lebanese Army.'”
He continued, saying that unfortunately in Lebanon, there appears to be a war between media outlets, each with its own political agenda. He referred to an article recently written by the AFP, which analyzed how the Mehlis report was covered by the Lebanese media. The AFP’s New York correspondent had written that the Mehlis report stated that Syria had cooperated with Mehlis. Most Lebanese newspapers stated this. However, Al-Mustaqbal had omitted this point.
Although Maamarbachi restrained his criticism of Tayyar.org’s maniuplation of his agency’s text, I consider such acts to be highly unethical. Perhaps Tayyar.org’s main financial contributor, Chaghouri, a Lebanese businessman who is based in Nigeria with an office in Paris, should consider pumping his dollars into another aspect of the website: training. My advice? Rather than pockmarking the website with advertisments that indirectly give its readers the sensation that “everyone” supports the General, funding some journalistic training programs for these amateur website editors really wouldn’t hurt.