Harmeet Sooden vs Sunday News

Apparently Harmeet Sooden complained to the NZ Press Council about some of the media coverage of his activities.

They weren’t very sympathetic.

The Press Council finds that the opinions expressed in the Martin Devlin column were fair comment based on what was publicly known about Mr Sooden’s activities before and after his captivity in Baghdad.

On contested issues of fact – the complainant’s country of birth, his expressed gratitude to the governments that worked for his release, and whether he was invited to Palestine last year – the Council finds the errors, if they were errors, forgivable. It was widely reported that Mr Sooden was a Canadian at the time of his capture and that he was applying for New Zealand citizenship (since granted). If he expressed gratitude for his rescue the sentiment was overwhelmed in reports of a press conference in which he criticised the Iraq occupation and believed the risk he posed to his rescuers was no worse than any they faced by being in Iraq.

Saying “I’m grateful” doesn’t stack up if you then attack your rescuers.

The information in his complaint is not sufficient to allow the Council to rule on whether or not he was invited to Palestine. The Council notes that Mr Sooden is guarded in offering any information to support his complaints. For example, he objects to the word “rescue”, saying, “A bona fide rescue is just one of many possibilities of what might have constituted a release scenario. There is currently no evidence available in the public domain that supports this or any other eventuality.”

But this isn’t about what’s in the “public domain”. One would assume it’s about the facts, and Sooden’s reluctance to provide his own is suspicious at best.

Mr Sooden may have good reason for saying very little, then or since, about what he and his companions were doing when they were captured, what happened to them over the months they were held and how they were released. But if he makes it his mission to go into conflict zones and put himself in harm’s way he must expect critical comment.

Translation: if you’re an idiot, don’t be surprised if you get called one.

If he considers press coverage to be “a valuable resource in the struggle to promote human rights”, as he said of Sunday News, he will need to be more candid about his activities. He will not find newspapers content with interviews by email and cannot expect that his attitudes and conduct will be always described in the terms he appeared to be trying to prescribe with this complaint.

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

The complaint is not upheld.

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