Swiss Press Club gives floor to White Helmets’ critics, despite Reporters Without Borders pressure
“It was very surprising and very disappointing to see a journalists’ association asking for a kind of censorship,” Mettan told RT. He commented that Reporters Without Borders (RSF) are “supposed to protect the freedom of speech and the freedom of the media… and they just wrote to me and to all the committee members of the Swiss Press Club to ask for cancelling the press conference about the White Helmets, which is completely in contradiction with their charter; with their goal.”
The Swiss Press Club head said that he replied to RSF, specifying that their demands were in violation of the country’s principal law. “We’re here in Switzerland, a country, which is democratic; which believes in the freedom of the press. It’s written in our Constitution,” he said, adding that in the letter he was “asking them (RSF) to respect the freedom of speech and the Swiss Constitution.”
According to Mettan, the Swiss Press Club is “accustomed to get pressures from everywhere in the world and mainly from dictatorial countries – like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and others – because they don’t accept that we give the floor to political opponents or to human rights’ defenders.” However, it was “the first time in 20 years” when such calls were coming from a journalists’ association, he said.
“But I never was tempted to cancel [the press conference] because I never cancel any press conference, whatever the demands for doing it,” the Swiss Press Club head said. The event, entitled, “They don’t care about us: About White Helmets true agenda” was held in Geneva on Tuesday as scheduled and saw Independent journalist Vanessa Beeley, who has done extensive reporting from inside Syria, French journalist Richard Labeviere and Marcello Ferrada de Noli, chair of Swedish Doctors for Human Rights (SWEDHR), speaking on the topic.
In their letter, Reporters Without Borders “attacked the speakers” and presented the topic of the event as “pro-Russian propaganda; propaganda in favor of [Syrian President Bashar] Assad,” Mettan said. The issue was “disturbing” to RSF because “the Western media have described the White Helmets as a neutral, fully independent humanitarian organization, which isn’t exactly the case… Now they can’t admit they were wrong and that the reality isn’t exactly as what they’ve written or said in the past years,” he explained.
A documentary describing the White Helmets as heroes and saviors in Syria won an Oscar in February. But witnesses have accused the controversial group of links with terrorists, filming fake reports of their rescue work, engaging in looting and other criminal activities.
Reporters Without Borders also warned that the press conference on the White Helmets could damage the Swiss Press Club’s image, but Mettan turned the notion down. “In my view, what’s damaging my image is to succumb to the censorship demands, because the real goal of the Press Club is to give the floor to anybody, any organization, which wishes to express its concerns,” he said.
The journalist stressed that over the years he invited to the Swiss Press Club “many people, criticizing Russia – for instance, [opposition figure and former chess champion] Garry Kasparov; Mrs Nemtsova [the wife of murdered opposition figure, Boris Nemtsov]. But I have also the right to accept people, who are supporting Russia. That’s a goal of every press club and not politically correct association.”
Mettan also said that received “dozens of messages from all around the world – from Sweden, the US, UK, Australia, Canada,” supporting the Swiss Press Club for “staying firm” to the ideals of free speech and hosting the press conference about the White Helmets, regardless of the pressure.