Riad Kobaissi is a dogged investigative journalist and TV presenter who bravely exposes corruption at the highest levels of government in Lebanon. Kobaissi, who is the winner of the ICFJ Knight International Journalism Award, delivered the following remarks on Nov. 2 at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, DC, at the ICFJ Tribute to Journalists 2023.
Three weeks ago, I had intended to share the story of how my journey in combating corruption in Lebanon began 12 years ago. I wanted to elaborate on the prevalence of corrupt politicians and subservient judges in my country Lebanon, which is suffering from an economic meltdown fueled by inept leadership. My country Lebanon, where the capital Beirut was partially destroyed and more than 200 people were killed as a result of criminal negligence by incompetent and corrupt government officials who allowed 2,750 tons of explosive materials to be stored at the port in the heart of the city.
Three weeks ago I was planning to offer insights of how Lebanese journalists have overcome challenges and threats, ultimately contributing to accountability and transparency.
However, three weeks ago, a friend of mine was tragically killed in Israeli shellfire in southern Lebanon while covering border clashes. Four more journalists sustained serious injuries.
His name is Issam Abdallah, a Reuters video journalist. By the time of his death when he was killed with an Israeli shellfire, he was doing nothing more controversial than providing a live video link for broadcasters. He was shelled despite the fact that his clothing clearly distinguished him as press, and he and the rest of his colleagues were filming in an agreed location. Issam paid the ultimate price for his pursuit for the truth.
I dedicate this award to Issam and to my Lebanese colleagues who have frequently placed themselves in harm’s way to reveal the truth.
Regrettably, with a catastrophic death toll, definitely, this is not an appropriate moment for me to celebrate an award I’ve long aspired to attain. Instead, I see it as an opportunity to advocate for balanced and objective media coverage of the ongoing conflict in the region, and I'm not talking about impartiality, balanced and factual media coverage of the ongoing conflict in the region, something which many Western media outlets have always championed, yet unfortunately some failed to achieve.
I am grateful for this award. I thank my family, my wife, my two kids, and my colleagues at the investigative unit. I thank Al Jadeed TV for its support and for all the hard times and threats that we have endured together. I thank Rana Sabagh for her amazing role in establishing investigative units in the Arab world and for nominating me for this award. I thank Daraj Media and OCCRP for choosing me to be part of the investigation you saw in the video. I thank ICFJ for supporting investigative journalism. And I thank the courageous people of Lebanon for their stand against corruption, corruption backed and protected by mafias in Lebanon.
During the past twelve years, I have faced many challenges and setbacks. I have been depressed and frustrated. I even quit investigative journalism for a short period. But I pledge to the people of Lebanon that I will continue with my colleagues to produce investigative stories substantiated with solid evidence and we will do so to remind those who think they are unaccountable that there are always consequences. Thank you.