Ayaangate: Zembla defends itself.

Today in the Trouw daily, the chief editor of Zembla, responsible for the 'documentary' De Heilige Ayaan (Saint Ayaan), defended his program and his crew against allegations leveled against Zembla: Zembla over Ayaan (NL). Rather then comment on it, I'll give you the translation. Please feel free to form your own thoughts about the sanctimonious, hypocritical, putrid puss contained in this 'defence'.

Zembla on Ayaan
Reaction of the editors
by Kees Driehuis, chief editor Zembla

Why did Zembla broadcast the documentary about Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Six months ago Zembla discussed a proposal by one of the editors that had researched the statements of Ayaan Hirsi Ali about her flight to the Netherlands. It occured to him that she (in interviews, articles and books) gave differing accounts of her life before coming to the Netherlands. He was to investigate further and approach people that knew Ayaan in that time. Why the investigation?

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is not just any refugee. She was spokesperson on integration for a political party that is te architect and executive of a strict and restrictive immigration policy. The VVD is a coalition party that contributed a severe minister of Immigration to the Balkenende II cabinet.

Did nobody within the VVD see this would be a problem for the position of Ayaan Hirsi Ali? She herself apparently did, given het telephone conversation with Rita Verdonk, in which she stated she had 'lied too'. Did nobody notice that de Dutch government allowed an example of class justice to walk around freely? Hirsi Ali can count on influential friends. Thousands of asylum seekers that are about to be thrown out cannot. That means that there is hypocrisy and an unjust situation. And for that alone it is a subject for Zembla.

Also with her views on repression of muslim women, honor killings and clitorectomy Ayaan Hirsi Ali was quite often in the news. her own experiences, or so she said, often played a big part.

These last months two Zembla investigators have read and seen almost everything published and broadcast about and aroundAyaan Hirsi Ali. She has been interviewed about many subjects, but her complete story of her flight was never made public. We wanted to make an episode that would give that complete picture and this episode would be planned (completely randomly) somewhere in May. Subsequently we started the difficult search for people that knew Ayaan during that period and were willing to talk to us. Most of them had never talked to a journalist ever before.

We contacted countless of (distant) family members, clan members, (ex-)friends and other people for the Somalian community in various countries. We told everyone the episode would not be about her views on islam, but about her life up untill she came to the Netherlands. The investigation delivered enough material for an episode.

On April 27 we showed a number of clips from our recordings to Ayaan Hirsi Ali and asked her additional questions. On Wednesday May 10 a press notice was sent, in which the content of the program was announced. Subsequently a number of papers and tv programs called for more information and if tere was any news in the episode. As a result a second press notice was sent, which lead with: 'VVD knew that Ayaan Hirsi Ali made up the story of her flight'.

After that we offered interested media the opportunity to preview the episode that Thursday at tree in the afternoon. The NOS Journaal wanted a number of clips they deemed newsworthy. During the eight 0-clock news time was devoted to the episode. After the broadcasting of the Zembla episode the ANP (General Netherlands Press agency) brought an elaborate message and later that evening MP Nawijn posed parliamentary questions. The rest is history.

The day after the broadcast, Zembla was accused of bribery and intimidation of the borther of Ayaan, Mahad Hirsi Magan. This accusation was made in an anonymous letter sent to nearly all daily and weekly magazines on the night of our broadcast.

Maybe it is a superfluous statement, but still: we have never paid anyone to give a statement. Mahad Hirsi Magan, at our request, undertook a complicated journey to Somalia with us. For that he received expenses of 20 dollar a day. He made his statements voluntarily and was not pressured. At least, not by us. After the broadcast he was called by his sister Ayaan and Leon de Winter. To them he retracted his statements.

As journalist you always hope your work is heard and seen. That in some cases parliamentary questions are posed. Or that a discussion is started. Zembla has been doing that for over ten years. Often successfully. Often opinionating. Sometimes controversial. Not always we get gratitude for this, but so be it. In the end it is about the facts, not about those who bring them. What did surprise us over the past week is the indignation, also from fellow journalists, directed at us. Directed at the messenger, not at the message.

To a number of opinionmakers and journalists 'De heilige Ayaan' gave cause to accuse us of a witchhunt against former VVD-MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Much has been claimed and implied, but nobody has been able to point out factual errors. No facts were twisted, both sides of the story have been heard, in short: we are not to blame. It seems we are culpable just for making this episode. Apparently there rests a taboo on exposing the past of an MP, or atleast in the case of Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

It didn't contain any news, came another accusation. If that were so, then we still have the scoop of a program without news that was top of the news for a few days. But in 'De heilige Ayaan' there certainly were new facts exposed. It was the first time that the past of Ayaan was fully exposed. On top of that the episode created current events by instigating the discussion on the consistency of the VVD points of view with regard to asylum policy.

Zembla consciously committed character assasination on Ayaan Hirsi Ali in order to take away her Dutch citizenship? The answer seems logical to me: Not in the least. Zembla is not responisble for the errors of the VVD or for the decisions of minister Verdonk. But the question of what we wanted [to achieve] is journalistically irrelevant. We are journalists and not lobbyists. But high trees catch much wind (1). High trees *should* catch a lot of wind. Journalists should critically follow the powers that be, wherever they are. And Zembla will keep doing that.

(1) 'Hoge bomen vangen veel wind'. Dutch saying, meaning famous people experience a lot of attention, positive or otherwise.


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