New Lebanese newspaper to counterbalance pro-Hezbollah narrative
BEIRUT - After several prominent newspapers disappeared from print or ceased to exist in recent years, a new publication, Nidaa al Watan, hit newsstands in Lebanon on July 1, countering the negative cycle that has swept Lebanese media, once regarded the most liberal and outspoken in the Arab region.
Nidaa al Watan — “Call of the Nation” — “comes out with a clear vision and identity,” said Editor-in-Chief Bechara Charbel. “Its mission is to champion and defend Lebanon’s sovereignty, independence and freedoms.”
“Sovereignty for us means weapons should be in the hands of the legitimate forces only, namely the Lebanese Army and security institutions. It also means that the international border should be clearly and fully demarcated and foreign policy should be dictated by Lebanon’s interests first and foremost, not by any single party, and without foreign interference,” Charbel said.
Nidaa al Watan plans to address corruption, foreign meddling in internal politics and illegitimate use of force in Lebanon, he said.
Charbel said the new publication’s policy is based on the principles of the Cedar Revolution of 2005, the popular movement that forced the Syrian Army to withdraw from Lebanon after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
“Obviously our concepts and notions are different from those of others because our goal is to achieve and implement these elements of a sovereign state,” he said.
Iran-backed Shia Hezbollah is the only group not to have disarmed since Lebanon’s 1975-91 civil war. Hezbollah has taken on an increasingly important role in politics, dominating other political players and imposing a foreign policy close to Syria and Iran.
A newspaper titled Nidaa al Watan stopped publishing 19 years ago under its former owner. The new version of the newspaper is owned and funded by Lebanese businessman Michel Mecattaf, a political activist who has unsuccessfully run for a seat in parliament more than once, including in last year’s election. Mecattaf was a member of the Christian Kataeb (Phalange) Party and is affiliated with the US- and Saudi-backed March 14 Alliance.
“We have nothing to do with the ‘old’ Nidaa al Watan,” Charbel said. “The licence was on sale and it was bought by Michel Mecattaf, who believes in the cause of Lebanon’s sovereignty and decided to fund a newspaper that would defend this cause.”
Denying allegations of Saudi funding, Charbel said: “There is no direct connection between our newspaper and Saudi Arabia, though we might have the same regional political stance.”
“If we back the Saudi position, it does not justify accusations of affiliation with Riyadh. It is part of normal political practice,” Charbel said.
“Like Saudi Arabia, we are opposed to outside interference in the states’ internal affairs and we are against foreign schemes manipulating and arming minorities or meddling in the social and national fabric of countries whether it is in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait or Yemen.”
“Nidaa al Watan will be a sovereign and independent newspaper. We are a self-sustained media with a clear and straightforward identity. We have our own ideas, writers and analysts and it is at the core of our profession to reflect our political convictions,” Charbel asserted.
Lebanon’s media landscape is rife with privately owned newspapers affiliated with at least one of the country’s many political parties, which are often the publication’s primary source of funding.
The introduction of Nidaa al Watan comes during a time of crisis for Lebanon’s print media. In January, Al-Mustaqbal issued its last print version 20 years after being established by Hariri. Last September, political daily Al Anwar disappeared from print after nearly 60 years because of “financial losses.” In late 2016, As-Safir closed 42 years after publishing its first edition, with the founder saying it had run out of funds.
Charbel said the aim of Nidaa al Watan is to make a difference on the media scene. “We want to stir and stimulate sovereign thinking in Lebanon by expressing the opinion of the masses that flocked to Martyrs’ Square on March 14 (2005),” he said.
“The newspaper still has an important place despite the decline of print media and the proof is that the most read news websites are operated by newspapers,” Charbel added.
The 16-page publication, in a tabloid format, will be printed six days a week and will have a weekend edition of 24 pages.
Downplaying possible antagonism by newspapers with a different worldview, Charbel said: “Nothing will stop us from expressing our beliefs. We aim to become the leading newspaper in the country and our dreams and ambitions are not modest.”