A press freedom watchdog, Reporters Without Borders, has asked the Swiss Press Club to cancel a panel discussion on the “true agenda” of the controversial White Helmets group. But the club’s director won’t budge, noting that such demands are typically made by oppressive regimes.
Guy Mettan, executive director of the Swiss Press Club, says he was asked by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in Switzerland to cancel the conference. The press freedom organization, which is a member of the Swiss Press Club, said it did not want to be associated with the event.
"I have never seen such a thing," Mettan told Tribune de Geneve. “Now an organization that defends freedom of information is asking me to censor a press conference".
"Usually the pressure to cancel press conferences comes from countries that are known to be dictatorships. RSF's approach stunned me. It's taking journalists for fools. As if they were not able to form an opinion for themselves!”
Independent journalist Vanessa Beeley, who has done extensive reporting from inside Syria, will speak at Tuesday’s event alongside French journalist Richard Labeviere, an expert on the Middle East and international terrorism, and Marcello Ferrada de Noli, chair of Swedish Doctors for Human Rights (SWEDHR).
The conference, which will also include a multimedia presentation, is billed as offering “a clear view on what is the real agenda of these Hollywood so-called ‘first responders’ who received an Oscar for their performance.”
In a letter to Mettan published by Tribune de Geneve, Gérard Tschopp and Christiane Dubois, president and director of RSF in Switzerland, dismissed Beeley as a “so-called” journalist cited only by “Russian media propaganda.” They also claimed Swedish Doctors for Human Rights acts as “a tool of Russian propaganda.”
Noting that perhaps Mettan was unaware of this “information,” the letter urged the Swiss Press Club to “abandon” the event or risk tarnishing the club’s image. Mettan wrote back, denying the organization’s request and expressing disbelief that a group dedicated to protecting press freedom would advocate censorship.
“For the 20 years I have been working at the Swiss Press Club, I have always been under pressure to prevent people from expressing themselves. But so far these pressures have always come from authoritarian or dictatorial regimes, such as China, Saudi Arabia, Egypt or Bahrain,” wrote Mettan.
“This is the first time that a defense organization for journalists from a democratic country has sent me such a request. It goes without saying that I cannot act on it. It would dishonor a job that, I hope, is still yours.” Mettan called on RSF to participate in the event and present their point of view, rather than attempt censorship.
A documentary praising Syria’s White Helmets as heroes and saviors in Syria won an Oscar in February. Witnesses have meanwhile accused them of collaborating with terrorist groups, filming staged reports about their rescue work, engaging in looting and other misdeeds. Members of the group have been caught on camera several times performing dubious acts, including assisting with an apparent execution of a prisoner.