Last Updated: Sun Jul 17, 2011 00:58 am (KSA) 21:58 pm (GMT)

Mustapha Ajbaili: Foreign correspondents should not mistake facts for the truth

“Foreign Correspondent” (1940). Alfred Hitchcock wonders through this fraught wartime espionage thriller engrossed in the paper and without a care in the world. He passes Joel McCrea’s titular journo who has Nazi spy rings on the mind. (File Photo)
“Foreign Correspondent” (1940). Alfred Hitchcock wonders through this fraught wartime espionage thriller engrossed in the paper and without a care in the world. He passes Joel McCrea’s titular journo who has Nazi spy rings on the mind. (File Photo)

Foreign correspondents sometime tend to be spineless, weak and purposeless. And quite often the reason is that they mistake fact for the truth. The facts are often linked with the what, where, when, and how. But the truth is much bigger than that; it includes the toughest question to answer, which is the why.

Many of today’s foreign correspondents are often sent abroad carrying certain presuppositions, implicit deep-seated worldviews and armed with the kind of knowledge they need to defend those beliefs and justify them. For them everything that happens around could be molded into a story that could impress readers, rather than inform them.

Of course there are some reporters out there who are still like Johnnie Jones, in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 film “Foreign Correspondent,” but unfortunately not too many of them are still out there reporting with the kind of needed curiosity and courageous humility Jones displayed in the film as he tried to find out who killed Dutch statesman and diplomat Mr. Van Meer.

Some of today’s foreign correspondents act like they understand “the reality” in scope and write with kind of sophistication that often turns into unadulterated mediocrity.

The state of foreign correspondence today also brings to mind Roger Spottiswoode’s 1984 film “Under Fire.” In the film Russell Price, Time Magazine photographer, tried to investigate the death of the Sandinista rebel leader, Rafael. But the problem with this war investigative reporter is that he started his investigation with a bias that is both implicit and explicit.

This bias made his investigation flawed from the outset and exposed him to the risk of being manipulated, which happened in the film. In his investigative journey, Price met a French man, Jazy, who apparently was working for the CIA and from him he discovered the filthy politics of the war in Nicaragua and the involvement of the US government through sending arms’ shipments to the cruel Somoza regime.

The end result of Price’s journey is that he discovered another fact: Rafael was dead. Now the questions for him were: Should this fact be reported? And what are the social and political consequences of reporting the facts? These are perplexing questions and the focus of debate surrounding professional integrity and service journalism.

(Mustapha Ajbaili, Night Editor of Al Arabiya English, can be reached at: Mustapha.ajbaili@mbc.net)

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