MTV’s Xenophobic Crusades
By: Patrick Galey
Published Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Having already trained its disapproving crosshairs on minority groups such as Palestinians and migrant domestic workers, Lebanese channel MTV (Murr Television) has found another axe to grind away at this month.
As part of a growing list of social subsets to whose existence the channel apparently objects, MTV has served up a fearless “exposé” on homosexuals.
The channel's often incendiary Enta Horr (You're Free) sent an undercover reporter earlier in May to Hamra Cinema in Tripoli, where it claimed all sorts of sexual acts occur. And not of the kind MTV's moral barometer would approve.
After advising that what follows is not suitable for under 16s, the report clearly shows the face of an unidentified man, who is filmed divulging intimate details of a gay encounter in the cinema bathroom. No attempt is made by the channel to hide the man's appearance or disguise his voice.
Shadowy footage of men partaking in sexual acts completes the dispatch. Again, two individuals, although they have their backs to the camera, can clearly be recognized as they turn their heads.
Back in the studio, host Joe Maalouf tells the audience that the real problem with Hamra Cinema is that its frequenters are using the promise of cheap drugs to lure teenage boys into the bowels of the building to have their way with them.
“It's shameful to abuse teenagers in a pornography cinema and ruin their lives with drugs and orgies,” Maalouf says.
This claim is not backed up by any proof whatsoever.
He then uses the term “shuthuth jinsi” (literally, sexual deviance) when describing the homosexuals that allegedly congregate in Hamra Cinema.
Being gay is a crime in Lebanon and attacks against homosexuals are not uncommon. Men featured in MTV's report were filmed without their consent and have now been essentially “outed” in front of the nation.
It is, all in all, another reckless piece of journalism by a television channel whose previous achievements also include identifying sex workers and providing the public with the full name and school of a child who had already suffered at the hands of bullies.
In a similar manner, its report late last year on migrant domestic workers, after accusing the group as a whole of deviance and dishonesty, then approached two workers with cameras from behind – essentially, a video mugging. Naturally, the workers did not wish their faces to be shown to the nation (particularly as they were entirely unaware of the context in which they were being filmed) so they turned away. This was deemed by channel coordinators as sufficient execution of an individual’s “right to respond”.
A very recent dispatch by the channel dealt with women who allegedly operate as sex workers in south Lebanon. The women were filmed secretly by the side of the road and their faces made clearly visible. Again, no attempt was made to hide their identities, in spite of the great personal hazard being recognized on national television could pose to each of these women.
Viewed together, the programs form a body of evidence in contradiction to MTV’s proclaimed crusade in support of the viewer’s - and, by extension, the public’s - right to know. By voyeuristically invading the privacy of vulnerable individuals, the channel seems to believe it has the right to target and endanger people who do not conform to its own peculiar interpretation of a moral and pious Lebanon.
Sharif Nashashibi, founder of London-based media watchdog Arab Media Watch, criticized MTV for potentially endangering individuals featured in its reports.
“They are putting these people's lives at risk,” he told Al-Akhbar. “These are serious accusations that are not corroborated in the video[s].”
Viewers have protested in the past over how MTV's editorial guidelines apparently do not account for the well being and privacy of individuals featured in its reports. But the Hamra Cinema piece has sapped the patience of some groups exasperated by the channel's journalese.
“They treated the men there as if they are criminals but MTV is in no way qualified to judge,” said Hasan, founder of Raynbow, a Lebanese LBGT monitoring group.
Several NGOs supporting equal rights have been so outraged by MTV's latest dispatch that they have sought legal advice over its broadcast. They insist their grievance is on grounds of media ethics and the right to privacy – rather than the issue of sexual profiling the channel made its report about.
Nayla Geagea, a lawyer who has been contacted by rights organizations, says that any case brought against MTV could not be done in the context of the alleged homosexuality featured in the Hamra Cinema report.
Instead, she says, the dispatch is an obvious invasion of individual privacy. However, a case could be fought from this perspective only if the men featured in the broadcast were to take legal action themselves.
“The problem is that we cannot talk with NGOs who work on gay rights, because according to Lebanese Law, this is not a legitimate cause,” Geagea told Al-Akhbar.
Geagea said that it was legally challenging to bring third-party lawsuits against defendants on grounds of defamation. Any action against MTV in the courts would therefore have to be brought by the people who unwittingly featured publicly in the report.
The chances of this happening are, of course, slim. As Hasan put it: “I assume the individuals filmed are traumatized and horrified and they need to avoid more lights.”
The Hamra Cinema was briefly closed down following the airing of the report, proving that it is not just members of the public who are watching the places MTV’s prying cameras take them.
Nashashibi accused MTV of pressing ahead with the report knowing that the possibility of any legal rebuttal was negligible given the sensitive subject area.
“This entire exercise seems as if it supposed to scaremonger and be provocative,” he said.
Even if legal action currently seems a distant recourse for those offended and affected by the Hamra Cinema report, activists and media monitors have other ways to counter what they see as MTV's increasingly egregious shock-and-awe program agenda.
Both Geagea and Hasan have pledged to keep the issue in the public domain, using social and conventional media avenues to raise awareness on MTV's frequent transgressions. The idea seems sound; those seeking to expose Enta Horr's sedition need only to link to the video in question. It rather speaks for itself.
A brief skim of the comments posted underneath the episode on MTV's YouTube channel, which Nashashibi described as “horrendous,” shows reactions to several controversial programs has been fiery. They range from xenophobic to homophobic, with several variations on themes of intolerance and bigotism in between.
Of course, this may be the desired effect of such 'reporting', with considerations of individual privacy and safety parlayed in favor of that most vapid of media goals: ratings.
“This is publicity in the most lurid way. It is just irresponsible journalism,” Nashashibi said.
MTV did not respond to a request for comment from Al-Akhbar.