In Solidarity with Al-Jadeed TV to Avoid 'Seeing Stars'
By: Pierre Abisaab
Published Tuesday, June 26, 2012
A new precedent was set in Beirut Monday night as an armed attack targeted Al-Jadeed television, of which we saw parts developing on live TV. The attack shed light on how narrow the margin for civil life and democracy is in Lebanon, in the wake of a retreating authority in the face of armed groups. Amid a state of shock and condemnation, the audience was reliving the channel's experience in the past couple of days that started with an adventure with Salafi sheikh Ahmad al-Assir.
On Sunday night, Al-Jadeed had courageously and with its usual sense of national responsibility apologized for "the decadence” it unintentionally promoted during its Al-Hadath morning program.
Assir had delivered a hysterical Friday sermon, loaded with fallacies, exaggeration, and blatant incitement, which news bulletins relished in repeating. Then, on Sunday morning, Assir was hosted by Al-Jadeed’s Nancy al-Sabeh, who only meant to do her job professionally by opening up towards the different voices of society. But naiveté is forbidden in our profession.
The Lebanese channel belatedly discovered that it allowed a promoter of hate to use the channel to spread his sectarian poison during sensitive times that cannot bear more tension. Al-Jadeed belatedly realized that this disturbing and dubious rhetoric contradicts its mission, just like it contradicts the values and principles of other media institutions, spiritual authorities, social forces, and many political currents.
The channel did not hesitate in apologizing to the audience and the Lebanese people by issuing a clear statement which was broadcast during Sunday's 8 pm news. The statement said that "Al-Jadeed television, which has never used sectarian language, apologizes to its viewers for everything uttered by its guest, who...disregarded the sentiments of the Lebanese with all their different affiliations and categories. He allowed his tongue to humiliate, insult, and threaten..."
But the virtue of correcting a mistake might not be enough. There is a need to review that incident with a critical eye in order for the channel to avoid falling in this trap again.
Many television stations, obsessed with scoops or sensationalism, wanted a piece of Assir, who had suddenly jumped into the limelight, as public squares were opened for him and cameras followed his every step. Ministers and officials embraced him and everyone dealt with him as a fait accompli.
But few noticed that he was a programmed time bomb with a specific function in the local arena. Few asked what this man really represented, where he came from, what his role was, and what his real weight was in public life. Few cared that the rigid image that the imam of the Bilal Bin Rabah Mosque does not reflect the beliefs of most who share his religion in Lebanon. Instead of dealing with him as a marginal and passing case, the media dealt with him as a key player, giving him air time and access to public spaces.
This is the fatal mistake. Sheikh Assir is a media phenomenon. If the media did not invent him, he would have remained seated in the midst of his seekers, lecturing and guiding them, which is his and their right. That's fine, so long as takes place under the umbrella of the law.
Al-Jadeed is not the only one to fall in this trap. We are all partners there. Assir is not the only Frankenstein media product. We recall a similar case with OTV Bilal Duqmaq. We bring them and pull them out of their shadows to an exaggerated media-made position. We give them legitimacy, the right to issue fatwas, to theorize, and issue advice and lessons. And in the end they threaten us with "seeing stars,” while their darkness spreads like the plague, infesting people's perceptions and minds.
Perhaps it is high time for a collective review of the media performance and their responsibilities based on tough national, professional, and democratic foundations.
Of course, stifling any voice, party, or position is unacceptable. But freedom is not demagogy, absence of rules, or losing professional standards. Democracy does not mean opening up air space for the first quack we meet to tamper with civil peace. Racism, sectarianism, and incitement are not a point of view.
The media should consider all parties, their credibility, and real legitimacy before giving them the space they deserve. Otherwise, the magic will turn on the magician and the only thing left to be seen on television would be..."seeing stars."
Pierre Abisaab is Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Al-Akhbar.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.