BBC apology for Hariri-Mugniyah equation

The BBC has apologized for suggesting that former prime minister Rafik Hariri and Hezbollah operative Imad Mugniyah were both regarded as 'great national leaders.'
Imad Mugniyah.

BEIRUT, Feb. 18, 2008 (MENASSAT) – The BBC has issued an apology for its coverage of last Thursday's events in Beirut, when the third commemoration of the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri coincided with the funeral of Hezbollah security operative Imad Mugniyah. A report on BBC World had said both men were "regarded as great national leaders."

In a statement issued on Friday, the BBC apologized "to anyone who may have been offended by this item."

The apology was prompted by a letter of complaint sent to the BBC by Don Mell, a former AP photographer in Beirut who was with AP reporter Terry Anderson when the latter was abducted by Hezbollah in March 1985. Mell called the BBC report from Beirut "an outrage."

During his report about the dual commemorations, BBC reporter Humphrey Hawkesley had said, "The army is on full alert as Lebanon remembers two war victims with different visions but both regarded as great national leaders."

In his letter, 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 U.S. Embassy, the French and U.S. 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."

Although there is some confusion about the perpetrators of the attacks named by Mell – the U.S. and French barracks bombing e.g. were claimed at the time by Islamic Jihad –, Terry Anderson himself, in a reaction to Mugniyah's death, called him "the primary actor in my kidnapping and many other."

Mell's letter was made public by the Israeli paper, Jerusalem Post, which in turn contacted the BBC for a reaction.

In a statement, the BBC conceded that the words "regarded as great national leaders" were "imprecise."

While there is no doubt that supporters of Hezbollah did regard Mughniyeh in such terms, we accept that the scripting of this phrase was imprecise.The description of Imad Mugniyah should have been directly attributed to those demonstrating their support for him. Given his funeral was happening just a few miles from the commemoration of Rafiq Hariri's death, it was legitimate to draw a connection between the two. The report made clear that Mugniyah 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, we accept that this part of the report was open to misinterpretation. We apologise to anyone who may have been offended by this item."