The Inner City Press, an online newspaper dedicated to highlighting corruption at the United Nations, claims that the French Mission has taken revenge against Lebanese journalists by barring them from press briefings. The reason? Apparently one journalist didn’t keep certain comments made by a French diplomat off-the-record as requested:

In September a newspaper in Lebanon ran a quote from a “Western diplomat” saying that even US President Barack Obama couldn’t stop the Special Tribunal on Lebanon investigating the bombing that killed Rafiq Hariri, under a quote by French ambassador to the UN Gerard Araud.

This set off a diplomatic chain reaction that resulted in the French Mission to the UN banning the Lebanese press from briefings and, at least some sources say, in the firing of the journalist.

According to multiple sources, and as partially confirmed by French Mission spokesman Stephane Crouzat, when the Assafir newspaper in Lebanon published without byline a reference to Obama not being able to stop the STL, the French Mission immediately traced it to journalist Khaled Dawoud, then employed by Al Jazeera but also reporting for Assafir (sometimes spelled As Safir).

Two results are not in dispute: Mr. Dawoud, and also other Lebanese reporters, were barred from subsequently briefings by Ambassador Araud. Additionally, Mr. Dawoud’s employment with Al Jazeera ended. At least three sources affirm that the French diplomatic corps reached out to Al Jazeera. Others say it was based on complaints and a power struggle with Al Jazeera’s Washington bureau chief.

I’ve emailed Khaled Dawoud to see if this is true but I have yet to receive a response. Haven’t been able to find independent evidence that he is also no longer with Al Jazeera either. Will keep you posted.

Inner City Press: French ambassador to the UN Gerard Araud
Inner City Press: French ambassador to the UN Gerard Araud

Update – November 8, 2010

I’ve recevied an email from Khaled Dawoud in which he does acknowledge that he no longer works for Al Jazeera but the reason for that had nothing to do with the French Mission. He is also unaware of any ban on Lebanese journalists attending French Mission briefings and believes the goal of the article is simply a personal vendetta taken on by the original author, Matthew Russell Lee (whose office is five feet away from Khaled’s),  from being himself prevented from attending one of those briefings. Here are excerpts from the email I received:

I do freelance for Assafir for the past year, sending them items related to Lebanon only. and yes the French mission at UN did get angry because Assafir correspondent in Paris quoted Araud by name as saying that the indictment in Hariri case would come out by Christmas. On same day that was published, I ran a few quotes from Araud as “western diplomat” saying noone can stop the court, even Obama himself. That was a mere coincidence, but the French were not happy I did not tell I worked for Assafir, and decided not to allow me to attend their briefing. I personally don’t know about a “ban on all Lebanese journalists,” and I’m sure you are expert enough to read by end of Matthew’s article that he was personally banned from briefings by Araud. I suspect that’s what got him mad, and made him write that article without even bothering to contact me.