Gilad Shalit Interview and Journalistic Standards
Gilad Shalit was abducted on June 25, 2006 by militants near the Gaza border who had ambushed an Israeli army post. Hamas and an umbrella group called the Popular Resistance Committees took credit for the capture of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Shalit was held for five years and only once in 2009 did Hamas release a video of the pale and gaunt looking soldier holding a newspaper as proof that he was alive.
Initially, Israel refused to negotiate but then used Egypt to broker talks with the involvement of a mediator. Israel and Hamas reached an agreement on October 11, 2011. Israel agreed to release over 1000 prisoners in exchange for Shalit. The ratio of 1000 Palestinian prisoners to 1 Israeli soldier seems high, but Israel sees itself as surrounded by enemies and as a militarized society who sends all of their sons and daughters to the military to protect the state. All Israelis can identify with the plight of Shalit, as can the Palestinians identify with their imprisoned family members. Consequently, Israel has a policy of leaving no soldier behind.
On the day of the exchange, Shalit was transferred to Egyptian mediators with Israeli representatives present. The Egyptians then transferred Shalit to Israel. But before Sgt. Shalit was fully returned to Israel and transferred to airbase Tel Nof he was subjected to a television interview by the Egyptian journalist Shahira Amin. There was an outcry about this interview and some called it “abuse” and “continued torture.”
The appropriateness of this interview raises an interesting journalistic question. The Israelis have agreed to handle the story with sensitivity by keeping their distance from Shalit and avoiding photography and invasive questions in an effort to ease his transition. The Israelis have objected to the image of the bewildered and emaciated soldier in front of the camera. Did the interview meet any accepted journalistic criteria – newsworthiness, need to know, human interest, timeliness? Clearly, it did. No journalist would pass up the opportunity to interview Gilad. The story was newsworthy, timely, and met about every criteria of interest you could apply.
Then again, there is simply the issue of sensitivity and the circumstances surrounding the interview. The Israeli claim that the circumstances were ethically questionable and generally unfair to Shalit is certainly a defensible argument. A matter of moments before the interview he was in the hands of Hamas and under complete consertive control and there would be no reason to believe at the moment of the interview Gilad was suddenly liberated and free to speak his mind. We would not expect more from Shalit then we would expect from any captive prisoner saying what is necessary to stay alive.
Shahira Amin’s interview with Shalit is available at: Shalit interview with Shahira Amin. Shalit spoke in Hebrew in response to questions posed in English which created some confusion. Amin has been roundly criticized for conducting the interview but claims that she received Gilad’s permission (as if it could be freely offered under such circumstances).
It is important to note that Shahira Amin is in Egyptian peace advocate and resigned her position as a broadcaster in protest of the coverage of Tarir Square. And even though the Egyptian press can be very hard on Israel, even at times blatantly unfair, there is nothing particularly unfair about the questions she asked Shalit.