Lebanon’s media crisis

Sunday 08/05/2016
A newsstand in Beirut

Beirut - Lebanon is concerned about a crisis in journal­ism and the wider reper­cussions. Until recently, Lebanon’s media had a reputation for excellence but the current problems suggest a day-by-day deterioration in Lebanese me­dia and reflect the slowing dyna­mism of journalism in the country.
The lustre of the “Lebanese school” of journalism has faded over the past decade, affecting an industry that dates to the 19th century. The exceptional nature of Lebanese journalism can be seen in the role it played in the forma­tion of the modern Arab world and conflicts that took place.
The success of Lebanese jour­nalism is not just due to talent and expertise but the absence of a modern and competent media in the wider Arab world. Lebanon benefited by being the first coun­try in the region to have newspa­per publishing; the first Lebanese newspaper was published in 1858. There were hundreds of newspa­pers published across the country in the first half of the 20th century. Lebanon’s press industry benefit­ed from placing reporters and cor­respondents in capitals around the world as well as its unique role in bridging East and West.
Lebanon’s media played a his­toric role in the establishment of the country’s political system. The press’s part went beyond monitor­ing the corridors of power to play­ing an important role in the coun­try’s political survival. Based on this dynamic, many well-known journalists made the leap into poli­tics after gaining experience and mastering poise in the world of journalism.
The political system, in all its complexity and intricacies, has coexisted with Lebanon’s unique journalistic tradition. This has boosted the margin of freedom that Lebanon’s media have tradi­tionally enjoyed in comparison to other Arab national media. Leba­non’s political system avoided clashing with its national press and, instead, made it a partner in managing the country, using the media as platforms for debate be­tween the various communities and political parties.
Lebanon’s print media are in line with international standards, al­though the global decline of print journalism has affected Lebanon’s newspapers.
The crisis in Lebanese journal­ism is based on the loss — and perhaps this will prove to be an ir­redeemable one — of the country as a unique source of information and intrigue. Thanks to globali­sation, the current era is replete with different methods of finding and spreading news. On the other hand, the Arab world — and par­ticularly the Arabian Gulf — has seen a proliferation of modern journalism. While this at first re­lied on Lebanese expertise, that is no longer the case.
Lebanon’s media scene was once a unique theatre for different po­litical regimes in the Arab world to flex their muscles. Nasserite Egypt had its own newspaper compet­ing for readers in Lebanon, as did Syria, Iraq, Libya and the Arab Gulf states at one time or another.
With the collapse of the regimes of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar Qaddafi in Libya and the rise of the international media, this has lessened. Funding of media outlets is now limited to Saudi Ara­bia and Iran. Lebanese media have benefited from the “business” of the Saudi-Iranian tensions.
There can also be no denial that recent announcements about fi­nancial crises facing the coun­try’s Al-Nahar, Al-Safir and Aliwaa newspapers, among others, are concerns for thousands of people working in the media in Lebanon and raise many questions about the future of Lebanese journalism.
Lebanon’s media are paying the price of the chaos that was caused by the “Arab spring”. The current crisis reflects a reality that the wider domestic media industry has yet to acknowledge regarding, not the declining independence of Lebanon’s media outlets but, its complete subordination to outside parties who hold the purse strings.
Lebanese journalists have lost their lives in the increasingly fierce conflict between regional capitals, where Lebanon’s media are be­ing used to send messages. Could this spell the end of the “Lebanese school” of journalism?