BEIRUT - An exclusive video interview with Hezbollah captives held by Al-Nusra Front outside Aleppo, due to be aired tonight, has been substantially abbreviated after a senior Hezbollah official put pressure on the television station and the journalist who filmed the piece.
Lebanese journalist Carol Malouf told NOW on Wednesday that she had initially agreed with local TV station MTV to air thirty minutes of the footage she recorded during a trip to Syria in December in which she interviewed two Hezbollah fighters captured the previous month by the Al-Qaeda affiliate.
However, viewers will now see only seven minutes after calls were made by several Hezbollah officials to Walid Abboud, the presenter of the show on which the interview will be aired; Gabriel al-Murr, the owner of MTV; and Malouf herself.
“Somebody leaked the information to Hezbollah from inside MTV,” said Malouf. “First, Walid received a phone call from somebody in Hezbollah, but not very senior, [telling him] ‘I’m giving you advice, it’s probably better if you don’t air it,’ and things like this.”
“Then somebody more senior called Gabriel al-Murr […] and told him literally that ‘this interview does not serve the purpose of Hezbollah or MTV’.”
Following that call, Murr sought to axe the interview altogether, said Malouf. After lengthy debates on Monday and Tuesday, during which time Malouf was also contacted by Hezbollah exerting further pressure, it was agreed that seven minutes of the less “controversial” footage would be aired.
MTV was not immediately available for comment on the matter, hours before the episode of the bi-weekly Bi Mawdouiyeh (“Objectively”) program was set to air.
Hezbollah, for its part, has made no mention of the matter, although an online outlet supportive of the party reported Tuesday that Hezbollah had “made a number of calls to MTV at the highest of levels in order to stop the channel” from broadcasting a tape of its captured fighters.
Exclusive sources told the site—whose editor-in-chief Fadi Nazzal is close to Hezbollah’s ally, the Amal Movement—that Hezbollah could “resort to asking Lebanon’s National Audiovisual Media Council to convene and take a decision to forbid the showing of the video clip.”
Hezbollah has a longstanding policy of not commenting to NOW.
Censored interview footage hits Hezbollah “where it hurts most”
Malouf told NOW that that the full content of her interview with the two Hezbollah members held in captivity by Nusra “scares” the party.
The Lebanese journalist said she is in talks with other TV channels to air the remainder, which she described as “much more interesting.”
“It hits the nerve of the host community, because it shows that there are a lot of fuck-ups in the field, there were mistakes,” she said of the interview segments that will not air on MTV.
Malouf added the interview reveals that “there is a lot of pressure to send people more than once to the field, even though they signed up to go only once for fifteen days per year […] it shows weakness, it shows they’re not taking care of their people enough.”
“The [Hezbollah captive] even says something like, ‘when we go to the field we get $4 a day.’ Which is peanuts. It’s very embarrassing, and it questions, ‘Why are we doing this, why are we sending our kids to do this?’”
“So I think this is what they’re scared of. Because this is even more dangerous than Michel Samaha,” the journalist added in reference to the former Lebanese minister who was found guilty of plotting terror attacks on behalf of the Syrian regime.
“It hits them where it hurts the most.”
Hezbollah has come under heated criticism both in Lebanon and abroad for its military intervention on behalf of the Bashar al-Assad regime.
Although the party counts on strong support from Lebanon’s Shiite community, it has suffered increasing casualties in Syria as its involvement has gradually expanded in scope.
Hezbollah’s exact death toll in Syria remains a mystery, however the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights tracking daily developments in the war-torn country says that over 1,000 of the party’s combatants have been killed since 2011.
Nusra dealt the party’s military efforts a further propaganda blow when it announced on November 14 that it had kidnapped three Hezbollah fighters and released a video of them.
Hezbollah is currently negotiating with Nusra to secure the release of Mohammad Shuaib, Hassan Taha and Mousa Kourani, according to pro-Hezbollah daily Al-Akhbar.
Alex Rowell tweets @disgraceofgod