A film by Sally Farhat, Bianca Halliday, Farah Saati (2020)
Supervision: Dr. Claudia Kozman
The October 2019 uprising and the Beirut blast signify a turning point in the history of Lebanon’s political and media systems.
The media in the country have historically reflected the local sectarian divides and the regional political tensions.
“Al Hadath municipality reclaims Christian land”
“The parliament is similar to an action film starring heroes”
“The focus today is on the assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq El Hariri”
Prior to the 2019 uprising, two eras dominated the media in Lebanon.
Lebanese media scholar Sarah El-Richani situates the first era in the period that started with the civil war when militias launched their tabloid news outlets. During those times, pirate TV channels and radio stations emerged, while the press mirrored the different war narratives.
The media scene remained as such until the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq El Hariri in 2005.
This tremor marked the beginning of the second era of the media when two new political groups emerged. The first group is known as the March 14 alliance and follows a Saudi and anti-Syrian regime agenda. The second group is known as the March 8 Alliance and follows an Iranian and pro-Syrian regime agenda.
Abbas Zalzali, Presenter and journalist, NBN TV: “The funders decide the policies of any media outlet. Whoever the funders are (a political party, businessmen, a religious sect)… they have the power to control the narrative of the newsroom.”
Both the first and the second eras of the media were a result of a major political change in the country.
Today, Lebanon’s economic crisis, the 2019 uprising, and the 2020 Beirut explosion leave the country at another major turning point that marks the beginning of a new period for partisan media.
Jad Melki, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Journalism and Media Studies, Director of Institute of Media Research and Training, Lebanese American University: “The October 2019 uprising ushered a new era of media coverage which created these new realignments.”
According to media professors and researchers Jad Melki and Claudia Kozman, the rise in tensions meant more people started following television stations.
Jad Melki, Ph.D.: “The political parties who wanted to support the uprising went on the offensive against it; and those who were either allied politically with some groups who wanted to support the protest whether they work with political parties or not, in most cases they were not political parties or independent media, for example, Al Jadeed and to a large extent also LBC they were fully supportive of it. This could be for political reasons but it could also be for commercial reasons, they also intended to sensationalize the coverage in order to attract more audiences”
For the duration of the protests, channels turned into advocates for political causes and agendas.
Rachel Karam, Senior field reporter and correspondent, Al Jadeed TV: “Following the October 2019 uprising, we became the First Estate. The uprising even gave us the power to become stronger than the judiciary system and to put pressure on it. We pressured the government to do its job.”
The August 4 blast added a new component to the new media era that started with the October uprising. TV channels did not only remain defensive but also became largely sensational. The pro-government and anti-government narratives that surfaced during the uprising persisted after the explosion, except that each narrative became aggressively defensive of its own agenda.
Lara el Hachem, News reporter, LBCI: “The pro-government channels became more aggressive and defensive of the parties they belong to. The anti-government channels became more open with regard to their agendas and point views.”
During this period, people’s view of the media and politics and their relationship to both were redefined. Ultimately, this change in leanings forced television channels to recreate their agendas with the aim of maintaining their reach.
Rima Hamdan, TV reporter, OTV: “Lebanese newscasts usually put their attention on political news stories. But after the August 4 blast, their attention shifted to humanitarian topics. The disaster was a stimulation or a wake-up call for journalists to focus on what really matters: the people.”
The editorial changes stipulated a change in the role of journalists and increased their motivation and responsibility. Their sense of connection with the people became stronger, which made journalists report on behalf of the people and advocate for their needs.
Mirella Bou Khalil, News reporter, MTV: “The responsibility we have towards the people is what keeps us going. I cannot remain silent nor hide the truth if it harms people. I cannot learn new information about COVID-19 for example and not share it. The responsibility people gave us is what motivates us to keep going.”
This possible new era for partisan media in the country mirrors media scholar Harold Lasswell’s propaganda model. Lebanese stations resorted to manipulation tools to evoke action and increased their use of hatred messages against rivals. The audience also witnessed a rise in cooperation with allies and the demoralization of politicians, who were blamed for the explosion.
Jad Melki, Ph.D.: “There’s a thin line here between being an advocate and a propagandist by showing only one side of the story or only presenting certain truths and not the others. ”
Media scholars James Tankard and Werner Severin routline seven propaganda tools we can apply to the case of the Lebanese TV stations’ newscasts:
- Bad Name Calling
- Glittering Generality
- Transfer of respect
- Plain Folks
- Card Stacking and
Abbas Zalzali, Presenter and Journalist at NBN: “Some journalists resorted to playing on people’s emotions to get a reaction on the streets, which caused trouble on the ground.”
The long-term impact of these new changes is still unclear. But as Zalzali explained, the media are heading into one of the most difficult periods where there is no place for objectivity. The repercussions of these action, then, remain to be seen.
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