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August 6, 2020 3:12 pm

Australian Broadcaster Criticized for Pushing Israel Conspiracy Theory in Coverage of Beirut Blast

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A view shows a damaged building and vehicles following Tuesday’s blast in Beirut’s port area, Lebanon, Aug. 6, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Aziz Taher.

A leading Australian broadcaster is refusing to apologize for a segment on its Wednesday night programming this week in which Israel was blamed for the devastating explosion in the port area of Beirut.

Interviewed by host Waleed Aly of Channel 10‘s “The Project,” Beirut-based photographer João Sousa was asked if explanations from Lebanese officials that the explosion was caused by ammonium nitrate were “widely accepted by people there.”

Sousa replied, “No. I would say 99 per cent of the people I’ve spoken with … they all feel that that’s not necessarily the correct explanation.”

Sousa then invoked the conspiracy theory that Israel was behind the tragedy.

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“People are more likely to believe that this was an attack, a military attack, possibly by Israel than an accident,” he said.

He added that “Lebanon and Israel are never on good terms, so there’s always this tension going on, and people are always expecting something like this to happen.”

On Thursday morning, “The Project” deleted the segment from it social media channels, but stopped short of an apology.

In a statement to the The Australian Jewish News, the program said that it rejected “the suggestion there is any evidence the explosion in Beirut was a military attack.”

The statement continued: “As our report last night clearly stated, this is a tragic accident resulting from the mishandling of dangerous chemicals.”

Jewish groups and some politicians nonetheless objected strongly to both the interview and the program’s insistence that it had not spread a conspiracy theory.

Federal Liberal MP Dave Sharma said “giving a platform to baseless conspiracy theories and then failing to contest or challenge them” was “bizarre and grossly irresponsible.”

Federal Labor MP Josh Burns noted, “Maybe it’s best not to promote unfounded conspiracies.”

Dvir Abramovich — head of Australia’s Anti-Defamation Commission (ADC) — said he had been in direct contact with the program’s producers.

“Such false charges should have never been given a platform on a mainstream current affairs show, and should have been rejected and refuted immediately,” Abramovich told The Australian Jewish News. “And while I welcome the removal of the video, I urge the senior management at ‘The Project’ to apologize for this lapse in judgement.”

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