Mohammed Ali Nayel, 31, journalist & fixer from Beirut
Moe Ali Nayel started working as a fixer for international journalists in the 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon. Confronted with news coverage that felt to him „completely a-factual and sensationalist“, Nayel later began to publish his own stories: He became a local hero in 2010 when he spoke up against two reports from Lebanon he criticized as misleading and false. When Moe Ali and I met in a nice café-restaurant in Hamra, he immediately liked the idea of promoting more cooperations among journalists – the core idea of Hostwriter:
Moe Ali, you started working as a fixer in 2006. What happened in 2010 when you decided to write your own stories as a journalist?
That actually was a sad incident: An award-winning journalist from America came to Lebanon to work on social media and the effects it has on the people. She contacted me as a fixer and when I first met her, I realized that this journalist didn´t even know the name of the prime minister. I thought, ok, it´s safe, she is doing a story about social media, she isn´t going to venture into the political situation of the country. During her stay, Ahmadinejad was coming to Lebanon and I asked whether this would be interesting for her report. She was completely taken by surprise, but was happy to change her plans and cover the visit. Ahmadinejad came to Dahieh, a southern suburb of Beirut, where it is well-known that you need several papers, including a Hezbollah media office permit, to work as a foreign journalist. Because she didn´t know Ahmadinejad was coming, it was too late for her to get the permits, so I ended up going and doing the reporting for her. She published two stories based on my information – and I was shocked when I read them: she was telling lies. She made up details that I never mentioned to her in my reports.
Can you give us an example, what exactly upset you in the reports?
First of all, she claimed that she was there herself. She made up quotes that I never gave to her and described the scene in first-person in a very sensationalist manner. She pictured the people celebrating Ahmadinejad as if they were deluded sheep, that felt really offensive to me. She even described Ahmadinejad as „a rock star, a sex symbol“ to the women who were „excited“ to see him. I couldn´t believe it because that didn´t actually happen: The way these women cheered Ahmadinejad was like any other women would cheer for any other politician. There were no sexual hints in it at all. I got very upset and felt I have a responsibility to say something about it. This is how I started writing and I´m glad I did: My reply went really viral and people told me that more fixers and people like myself who are between the story and the journalist should speak out, especially when there are cases of severe misinformation about this part of the world.
And how did she react towards your critique of her making up false details…?
She treated a whole bunch of people in a very degrading manner in the stories. However, she didn´t see a reason to change any content. I felt very bothered and ashamed because there was a bye-line at the end of her stories saying „Moe Ali Nayel participated in the reporting“. I didn´t want my name underneath these lies. I explained to her how misinforming her reports were and that I wanted my name to be removed. Only after I published my reply and it went viral, then my name was removed from one of the stories, at least! I was glad, it encouraged me and it opened my eyes towards this profession, especially about journalism from this part of the world.
Was this experience a rare occasion or have you faced similar problems working for other foreign journalists since?
Most journalists have a huge ego: They usually approach stories from their own perspective and not from the perspective of the people they are writing about. The problem about ego-inflated journalists is that they make the people they are interviewing feel like they are doing them a favor. For instance, many times, people wouldn´t want to speak about something or they would feel uncomfortable to say something. But the foreign journalist would insist, persistently insist, saying: „Tell them we are from the New York Times! We are from Washington Post! We are not anybody!“ Big names were thrown at people, but people here don´t really care about big names. They are giving journalists their time and tell them about their life-stories, that should really be more respected and recognized. Moreover, the way egotistical journalists write their stories doesn´t usually play in the benefit of the people they interview. People don´t get anything back from it, not even a decent exposure to their plights! When I first got into journalism, I thought these guys were doing the world a favor. But when I worked with them, through my experience with them, it made me realize that there is something terribly wrong going on here. I think most stories get stuck somewhere between the prestige of the publication and the ego of the journalist who is working for this publication and who´s only seeking his or her name to be published on the front page. This is why I started writing myself: I want to actually contribute with my material to non-mainstream publications in order to help making them a source of information that has no corporate bias and has no advertisement purposes. I just really want to tell stories as they are.
Do you think that a cooperation network like hostwriter could also help improve journalism from this part of the world?
From the little I know about it, I´m honestly excited about this idea. There is a real need for new initiatives like hostwriter in the media nowadays. And it´s the time to start establishing something like that right now when media and the conception of information-gathering and sharing is completely changing. In five years, hostwriter might be a solid place to go to in terms of non-corporate, non-mainstream-media information access. There are a lot of freelance journalists who struggle because they cannot put out the narrative of corporate media. They cannot go and tell the line that the editors in New York and London want. But they still want to do this job and they haven´t given up yet. So I think hostwriter could provide the link between these journalists around the world – and information gathering and sharing is important as well. Because if I have an idea and you have an idea, we both live with two ideas. So in that regard, yes, I am encouraged and happy when I hear about initiatives like hostwriter!
Moe Ali Nayel writes for independent media in the Middle East and has continued his work as a fixer for major international outlets. This interview presents the opinion of Moe Ali Nayel. Tabea Grzeszyk tried to contact the American journalists via Email to hear her side of the story, but so far hasn´t heard anything back yet.