BBC sorry for Mughniyeh-Hariri parallel

Former journalist who was held up at gunpoint by terror chief's men called coverage "an outrage."

hariri rallly 88 298 (photo credit: AP)
hariri rallly 88 298
(photo credit: AP)
In an uncommon act of journalistic contrition, the BBC has apologized for equating former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri and Hizbullah terror chief Imad Mughniyeh as "great national leaders." The BBC took the unusual step after Don Mell, The Associated Press's former photographer in Beirut, lambasted the parallel, drawn by BBC correspondent Humphrey Hawkesley in a BBC World report last Thursday, as "an outrage" and "beyond belief." American journalist Mell was held up at gunpoint by Mughniyeh's men as his colleague Terry Anderson, AP's chief Middle East correspondent, was kidnapped in Beirut in March 1985. Hawkesley's report on what he called "an amazing day for Lebanon," when a memorial rally for Hariri was followed by Mughniyeh's funeral, concluded: "The army is on full alert as Lebanon remembers two war victims with different visions but both regarded as great national leaders." The clip was also posted on the BBC's Web site. Mell's letter of complaint, which accused the BBC of doing "a huge disservice" to "your great institution and nation," was made available to The Jerusalem Post for publication. Contacted by the Post, the BBC issued a statement Friday acknowledging that "the scripting of this phrase was imprecise" and apologizing to anyone who was offended by the item. In his letter to the British state broadcaster, Mell wrote: "For you to refer to former prime minister Rafik Hariri and Imad Mughniyeh as 'great national leaders' in the same sentence is beyond belief. One was an elected leader who spent years and millions of his own money rebuilding his country. The other was probably the world's second most notorious terrorist, who was responsible for, in addition to running a major criminal enterprise, destroying the US Embassy, the French and US Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983; the hijacking of TWA 847; the bombing of the Israeli cultural center in Buenos Aires, [and] the kidnapping and murder of many Westerners in Lebanon, including Terry Anderson, Terry Waite, John McCarthy." Mell noted that he personally had "a familiarity with these events" since he had witnessed many of them and "was with Mr. Anderson when he was kidnapped in 1985." Mell and Anderson had just finished a game of tennis on March 16, 1985, when a green Mercedes pulled up in front of Anderson's car, bearded gunmen jumped out, a pistol was placed at Mell's forehead, and Anderson was dragged away into what became almost seven years of captivity. He was finally released in December 1991. Responding to Mughniyeh's death last week, Anderson called him "the primary actor in my kidnapping and many others." Anderson added: "He was not a good man - certainly. To hear that his career has finally ended is a good thing and it's appropriate that he goes up in a car bomb." In his letter to the BBC, Mell went on, "Most recently, Mr. Mugnhiyeh was responsible for provoking the Israeli-Lebanese conflict in 2006, which one may ask, accomplished what?" He concluded: "I seldom criticize the reporting of others because of my great belief in the exchange of differing viewpoints regardless of source, and for my great respect for the first amendment of my country's constitution. But today you went too far. You've done your great institution and nation a huge disservice." The BBC, in its statement, said, "While there is no doubt that supporters of Hizbullah did regard Mughniyeh in such terms [as a great leader], we accept that the scripting of this phrase was imprecise. The description of Imad Mughniyeh should have been directly attributed to those demonstrating their support for him." The statement noted that Hawkesley's report "made clear that Mughniyeh was believed to have been responsible for a series of bombings; it drew attention to his believed connection with Osama bin Laden and to the fact that he had been hunted by Western intelligence agencies for more than 20 years." However, said the BBC, "We accept that this part of the report was open to misinterpretation. We apologize to anyone who may have been offended by this item."