The Role of the Media in the Lebanese Revolution

Picture of the protestors in big numbers, raising several Lebanese flags, taken from AFP

From the moment the Lebanese protests erupted on the evening of October 17, the media has been broadcasting it everywhere for all to see. The protests turned into a 24 hour media event where multiple Lebanese TV channels are showing news of the protests all day, everyday. 

It’s no secret that many of those channels are politically affiliated/backed, meant to promote and highlight different agendas. The most obvious example would be the late Future TV that was owned by Saad Hariri and therefore supported the Future Movement. In addition to all of that, the Central Bank, a checkpoint many protestors go to, gives loans to these stations with zero percent interest, meant as a sort of bribe for the news stations not to reveal their wrong doings or cover stories that would make them “look bad”. 

This results in a discrepancy between fact delivering when covering an event while simultaneously framing the news in such a way that wouldn’t be harmful to whatever party or business the channel is supported by. The discrepancy can be noted in how the Central Bank protests were reported, for example, which was only once and for a limited amount of time although protestors are settling there everyday and blocking a major metropolitan street, Hamra Street. 

Some channels make their affiliations more obvious than others, and consequently get treated in less civil manners. OTV (which is affiliated with the Free Patriotic Movement and President Michel Aoun) reporters received the cold shoulder with a lot of protestors who refused to speak to them, given that they allegedly serve Aoun’s purpose. Following the Revolution’s slogan “Killon Yaane Killon” (Everyone Means Everyone [no exceptions]), Aoun would be one of “them”, so most protestors refuse  to serve his agenda. OTV has been involved in more drama, with their presenters jokingly saying on air lewd stereotypical comments about how “men are going to keep their wives at home and get Ukrainian women down to the streets” and “the pregnancy rates will be increasing.” The Ukrainian embassy issued a letter to the general manager of OTV and legal assessments will be issued. 

Another way that covering the protests can turn a little unfair is how the reporters ask the questions and how they nudge people into saying what they want them to say. For a while, a lot of reporters asked “who asked you to come down here?” and “who sent you?” insinuating that the people aren’t protesting out their own conviction, but were sent by some greater power. A lot of talk of “who’s funding this?” has been going around, questioning the free food/beverages given at the protests. From the way they stress on certain questions or the frequency of their asking, one would think they almost want there to be more to it than just people’s donations. As if they’re chasing a bigger story to prove the protests illegitimate. While it’s important to uncover ulterior motives to something that’s seemingly innocent, the public started getting wind of it and are retaliating with their own arguments about how no one sent them and how they’re donating for a greater cause.

The coverages changed from station to station. Al Jadeed for example sent reporters to any where a protest was taking place, giving an extensive-day long coverage of people’s thoughts, motives, demands on live TV. MTV, while doing on-deck coverage of the protests, also organized shows with political analysts and political figures for some questions and answers regarding the protests and plans moving forward. The general consensus between the public seems to be “don’t give politicians airtime, keep it to the people.” The difference in these coverages would offer viewers nuanced information about what’s going on, given that they don’t stick to one station all the time. That seems to always be the case for Lebanon; if you want the full truth, you have to watch multiple coverages of it through different outlets and formulate an opinion for yourself. 

Aside from local media outlets, the Lebanese revolution has gained international coverage as well. However, it bordered on problematic. TIME, New York Times, CNN, and BBC all reported on the protests with a shallow, two-dimensional outlook that relied more on flashy imagery of the fires protestors ignited (probably to deliver the narrative of “savage third world country”) and false information that made the motive behind the eruption of the protests trivial. They all mentioned the WhatsApp tax first and foremost, and added the “corruption” factor later on their stories. The way one phrases their story matters, and prioritizing information over others has to have a reason, especially since the majority of their audience is non-Lebanese and probably has no idea what’s going on. News outlets priority should be delivering news first and foremost, delivering their orientalist and imperialist narrative second. 

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