Watching the case of Peter Greste, Mohammed Fahmy and Baher Mohammed is becoming increasingly frustrating as the delays and inaction pile up. What should be most concerning to all is that for a case that receives such high profile attention where are the experts who can detail how these events unfold?
When a plane goes missing news services run commentary from the best aviation experts they can find, when there is a storm approaching Australia’s best meteorologists are called in to give their best predictions and forecasts. But when an Australian is imprisoned, kidnapped or missing overseas we get no such expert advice. Discussion shows like ABC’s The Drum and QandA ask for the opinion of the unqualified; journalists offer up their best guesses and politicians tell us they are doing their best. But how can we know the best is being done, how can we know if those guesses are right or the opinions wrong if we don’t have any expert advice as a benchmark from which to work?
This is not an appeal of my own to seek media attention nor feather my own nest, I want nor enjoy neither. But I am one of two senior advocates at Australia’s largest and longest running prisoner support service for people detained abroad. I have managed high profile cases, I have worked on many of such cases in Egypt and have been responsible for the release of unjustly held prisoners from the very prison complex in which Peter and his colleagues are currently held.
This is but my job, yet to those in the media to whom I have offered my opinion I have been dismissed by journalists that judging our conversations knew next to nothing of the judicial process in Egypt nor how the formalities are conducted when an Australian is imprison abroad and shrug cluelessly when I ask about “Conops”. And yet it is these very journalists who will report on this case, who will offer up opinions and tell the public what they believe they should know. More worrying yet is how drastically out of their depth many of our politicians are. Asked about the action they are taking, politicians from all sides give the sort of answers that could be provided by any observer of the nightly news. For a country with a record of our citizens imprisoned abroad this is simply inexcusable.
I also feel desperately sorry for the Greste family and the families of Mohammed Fahmy and Baher Mohammed, almost daily we see them conduct themselves with stoic composure, grace and humility in the face of great torment and distress. But the reality is I have seen at least 100 other families go through the same thing, most out of the public spotlight but all sharing one thing in common. A Government and a Press that is hopelessly out of their depth to assist those most in need. Families are often more than wary of offering any public criticism of Government whom despite their inabilities are one of the only sources of information and potential assistance.
So it then falls on we the public and the press as the fourth estate to ensure Government is held to account and pressured into doing all they can for a citizen in need. And even more so for a citizen who has committed no crime and in fact was doing his job in the service of all of us to deliver the very free press we so desire. While it is commendable that so many in the global media have shown solidarity with Mr Greste and freeing the AJ Staff, Posting pics on social media is simply not enough. Twitter is not the voice that will force the release of Mr Greste, but a much more powerful one is held by the global press. Their TV stations, their newspapers, their radio programs. These are the tools that must be used by journalists most committed to see the AJ Staff released. Forget the selfie with the hastag, pick up your microphone, your camera or your pen. Because it is these tools that not only capture the widest audience but place the most pressure on the people in power whom will decide Mr Greste’s future.
From pressuring the Australian Government to do more, to speaking to experts so they know what that more looks like, to exposing the horrendous treatment of the press in Egypt. The media must task themselves with this fight for one very important reason… it was precisely this sort of quality journalism and exposure of the truth that landed the AJ Staff and Mr Greste in prison in the first place. To fight this battle the very best weapon to use is the one the Egyptian Government has so clearly targeted in this case.