An-Nahar’s blank pages reflect Lebanon’s crisis

Not only did the paper, which was founded in 1933, issue its paper version with blank pages, it did the same on its website and social media accounts.
Sunday 14/10/2018
Clock is ticking. Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri speaks at the presidential palace in Baabda, on September 3. (Reuters)

BEIRUT - An-Nahar, the oldest Arabic-language daily newspaper in Lebanon, was issued October 11 in eight blank pages to protest the deteriorating political situation in the country, where contending parties have failed to form a government since elections in May. Lebanon also faces economic, environmental and social crises.

“The people are tired and An-Nahar is tired of printing your excuses and your repeated empty promises,” An-Nahar Editor-in-Chief Nayla Tueni said to Lebanon’s political forces during a news conference.

“All we are doing is watching this quota power-sharing game and only God knows how long we will have to wait to see the deliverance day,” she continued, referring to the process of forming the next Lebanese government.

Tueni said the decision to publish the newspaper with the blank pages represents a different way of “expressing our deep and moral sense of responsibility, as a media institution, towards the disastrous state of the country.”

Not only did the paper, which was founded in 1933, issue its paper version with blank pages, it did the same on its website and social media accounts.

On the margins of the conference, Tueni said the newspaper “has always had a role in spurring change at certain political stages,” adding that “our cry today is not in favour of one party or at the expense of another.”

For decades, An-Nahar has played a prominent role in Lebanese political life but it has been suffering from a major financial crisis for years.

The media in Lebanon have been operating in a state of crisis mainly due to the drying up of domestic and Arab funding, in addition to declining advertising revenues and flourishing digital journalism. This has led many companies, including well-established newspapers and publishing houses, to close shop or lay off reporters and employees, as An-Nahar has done.

The political and economic stalemate in Lebanon has exacerbated the media crisis. Despite a political settlement that resulted in Michel Aoun’s election as president in October 2016, Saad Hariri’s appointment as prime minister and the election of a new parliament in May, the crises did not end.

Hariri has not been able to form a new government since the election. The fluctuation of his political consultations and manoeuvres are a result of sharp disagreements over the distribution of ministerial portfolios.

Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri said on October 10 that there were reports of a “promising atmosphere” in talks to form a government and that his office was involved in the deliberations, although they require more time.

Berri said the economic situation was “very delicate” and urged the Lebanese to “shoulder their responsibilities,” Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV reported.

Hariri said on October 9 that all parties had made concessions during negotiations and he expressed hope to have a new cabinet in place after Aoun returns from a trip abroad.

Lebanon has the world’s third-largest debt-to-GDP ratio, amounting to more than 150%. The new government is expected to reduce the deficit. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) urged Lebanon to make “substantial and immediate” fiscal adjustments to improve its debt sustainability.

The failure to form a government is precluding Lebanon’s access to billions of dollars in grants and loans pledged by the international community in support of its economy, as well as stoking fears of deterioration that could affect the Lebanese pound.

Forming a government in Lebanon is not possible without the concurrence of all major political forces because the political system is based on a quota system that distributes power among Lebanon’s sects and political groups.

A new cabinet would allow Beirut to undertake significant financial adjustments, which the IMF says are necessary to improve Lebanon’s credit score.

It is also likely that the formation of a new government would inject infrastructure investments worth more than $11 billion that were pledged at a donors’ conference last April. “We would be wrong to think that the world will wait for us to save ourselves. There are loans that can’t wait,” Hariri said.

Lebanon has been experiencing a waste crisis for years for which the government has yet to find a final solution. Citizens have reported on social media issues with the water supply. Activists have posted pictures showing fields of vegetables soaked in brackish water.