March 8 Capitulates on the Propaganda Front
By: Firas Choufi
Published Wednesday, November 7, 2012
The March 14 coalition wages its media battles professionally. The people who brought us slogans like, “We Love Life,” and, “Lebanon First” have shown repeatedly – from the time of Rafik al-Hariri’s assassination to that of Wissam al-Hassan – that they know how to create a public cause.
Lebanon may be too polarized for people on either side of the political divide to easily change their views, but this doesn’t make many Lebanese immune from the power of media campaigns. There’s a large bloc of Lebanese in the middle who heed to the loudest voices, regardless of whether these voices utter pearls of wisdom or absolute nonsense.
Opposite the March 14 camp’s organized media front is March 8. Many in the latter camp sense a crisis in regards to media coordination with affiliated parties. Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri alluded this much at a meeting with MPs last Wednesday. Berri joked that he was willing to offer March 14’s secretariat coordinator Fares Said a job as March 8’s coordinator. The speaker isn’t actually looking to fill the post, of course: Why would March 8 need a coordinator when it doesn’t even have a secretariat in the first place?
At their gatherings, March 8 politicians, parliamentarians, and pundits regularly work themselves up over how to respond to March 14’s media assaults. They feel suckered.
The political alliance between the March 8 groups may be harmonious, but what it lacks is a “media kitchen,” complained one source, a group that could take charge of “coordination on an almost daily basis over the running of media campaigns not just to defend ourselves against March 14, but also to go on the offensive and exploit the opposition camp’s many blunders.”
This concern is not Berri’s alone, but is increasingly being voiced by Hezbollah, the Free Patriotic Movement, and other groups gathered under the March 8 banner. Yet nothing has actually been done about it yet, several sources concur. “There has been no serious discussion of setting up a coordinating body to run media operations,” said one.
A pro-March 8 journalist noted that in the past three months alone – not to mention the past several years – there have been countless occasions when March 14 politicians and media outlets have made outrageous statements and accusations, to which March 8 has either replied with low-key formal rebuttals or turned a completely deaf ear.
That’s without mentioning the Michel Samaha case, which March 8 finds embarrassing to talk about. One coalition minister said of the case, “It is controversial and there’s room for give and take over it.” Nevertheless, he noted that when that story broke, “March 14 deafened the whole world, and we didn’t know what we should say in response to them for the first few days.”
Then there was the attack by Syrian opposition gunmen on an army post in Ersal in September. “March 8 should have launched a ferocious attack on March 14’s support for the Syrian opposition,” said the same minister. “The gunmen – from Syria, Lebanon, and Chechnya – stripped Lebanese soldiers and made them lie down for hours. How would March 14 have behaved if the Syrian army had done that?”
An attack targeting an Internal Security Forces (ISF) checkpoint in the same area came soon after the Ersal incident. March 8’s response was meager: a report on the incident by Hezbollah’s al-Manar satellite channel and a handful of statements. The incident was allowed to pass. Nobody even asked the ISF why it took it more than two days to issue a statement clarifying what happened.
March 8 has even stopped reminding people of Israel’s daily violations of Lebanese sovereignty, leaving it to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah to give an update from time to time in his speeches. Yet up in Akkar, the Future Movement’s MPs do nothing but protest what they term Syria’s violations of Lebanon’s borders and its army’s shelling of peaceful villagers, even if the shells land in remote valleys. They have even sent a complaint to the UN Security Council.
There was a similar failure to react when a Hezbollah commander was reported killed in al-Qusair, Syria. The moment the news broke, “March 14 turned it into a scandal for us,” said the pro-March 8 journalist. ”But how many communiqués and official statements did March 8 parties issue to comment on the participation of Lebanese elements fighting against the Syrian army or the smuggling of weapons to Syria? You could count them on your fingers.”
There is also the matter of how former prime minister Fouad Sinora gave up part of Lebanon’s territorial waters containing resources worth billions of dollars. The subject was ignored by everyone except MP Nawwaf al-Mousawi. Eventually, the matter was forgotten in the wake of the assassination of ISF Information Branch chief Wissam al-Hassan.
Then there was the reply given by Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea a few days ago when asked by LBC who he wanted to head the next Lebanese government. ”Oh, I have the names of four or five candidates in my pocket,” he said. Imagine the Match 14 outcry if Nasrallah had said that. He would have been berated for muscling in on the top Sunni job in the country and accused of usurping the will of Sunnis everywhere.
March 8 needs to chart a middle course between maintaining media silence and asserting itself militarily as it did in May 2008. The media, and perhaps advertising too, are indispensable weapons.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.