ON November 26th 2007, an Iraqi journalist Dia al-Kawwaz told Reporters Without Borders (RWB) that five gunmen had entered his family home and shot dead two of his sisters, their husbands and their seven children, aged 5 to 10. The gunmen then blew up the house before leaving in a vehicle with no license plates.
Afterwards in typical fashion RWB released a report rapping the Iraqi police and concluding that the government “encourages attacks on journalists and their families.”
This was all based on Al-Kawwaz’s testimony. Two days later it was revealed that Al-Kawwaz’s family was as safe and that the children were playing with their toys in the ‘destroyed’ house.
His supposedly dead family was seen on TV that same week saying that Kawwaz’s actions were embarrassing to them and were aimed at soliciting money from abroad.
Despite the fact that Kawwaz’s claim had been earlier denied by the Iraqi Interior Ministry and the Police, Reporters Without Borders insisted on reporting the claim as fact.
One wonders why RWB ignored the most basic methods of investigative journalism in the Al-Kawwaz case. Why didn’t they first carry out interviews with people acquainted with Al-Kawwaz, or find out exactly where the scene of crime was situated? Why didn’t RWB first find out if any media outlets such as CNN, Aljazeera or BBC had run the story?
The Al-Kawwaz story provides an interesting insight into the methods that Reporters Without Borders choose. It exposes the core political interests of this French NGO.
The fact that their audience is comprised mostly of busy Western citizens who won’t bother to carry out the investigations themselves, gives RWB a platform to skip the many requirements of fair reporting and promote their own political ideology to the unsuspecting population.
In their recent report about world media freedom particularly in Rwanda, RWB makes very many assertions, which are patently untrue.RWB claims that President Paul Kagame disrespected journalists by calling them “bums”.
However, there isn’t a single news conference or meeting where the president was heard using those words. This means that RWB got someone anonymous to give them a damning story about Rwanda. And after they got it, they didn’t verify it as factual.
Furthermore, the NGO tried to deliberately undermine RPF’s role by labeling as ‘murky’ its heroic struggle in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. It’s a fact that only the RPF/A stopped the atrocities, and no other power or organization.
Under fire, the NGO has stood firmly by its controversial methods of arm chair investigation despite the controversy their various reports provoke.
An American reporter on human rights, Kevin Pina described the reports issued by RWB as misinformed and meant to build internal opposition to governments.
In a case of lightening striking the same place several times, Salim Lamrani, a French journalist and university lecturer asserted in his report (The Lies of Reporters Without Borders) that RWB has hidden ties with certain multinational companies, as well as with organizations involved in shady activities, which may or may not involve international terrorism.
UNESCO, who had in 2008 granted patronage to RWB for their campaign on online free expression, fiercely withdrew their patronage after RWB published inconclusive material concerning UNESCO’s member countries, on top of using the UNESCO logo in a way that showed that the organization supported the reports.
Robert Menard, the former Permanent Secretary of RWB, vehemently attempted to deny accusations which appeared in the French media accusing the NGO of direct involvement in the failed Venezuelan coup of 2002 against Hugo Chavez.
Menard however dropped all legal charges that he was threatening when overwhelming proof was produced against his organization.
RWB has over and over again shown that they prefer to selectively pick a few individuals to interview, who are in agreement with an already written script.
Most of the world now views Reporters Without Borders as an organization that lacks credibility to push for press freedom, given that its agenda is first and foremost politically motivated.
Ivan R. Mugisha is a journalist with The New Times