As newspapers decline, new daily bucks trend in Lebanon

The launch of Nida Al-Watan comes during a time of crisis for Lebanon's print media.
Thursday 04/07/2019
A man reads the first issue of Nida Al-Watan in Beirut, July 1. (AFP)
A newspaper with a cause. A man reads the first issue of Nida Al-Watan in Beirut, July 1. (AFP)

Lebanon woke up to a new national newspaper on stands July 1, even after a series of prominent dailies disappeared from print over the past three years.

Nida Al-Watan, a 16-page publication to be printed six days a week, was available on newsstands and in libraries.

"The newspaper has a goal and champions a cause, which is, in brief, the sovereignty of Lebanon," Nida Al-Watan Editor-in-Chief Bechara Charbel said.

It plans to address corruption, foreign meddling in internal politics and illegitimate use of force in the country, Charbel said.

Lebanon's media landscape is rife with privately owned newspapers affiliated with the country's many political parties, which are often the publication’s primary source of funding. This has left little room for an independent press.

Nida Al-Watan -- “Call of the Nation” -- is funded by Lebanese businessman Michel Mecattaf, who unsuccessfully ran for a seat in parliament in last year's election. He was a member of the Christian Kataeb Party and is affiliated with a US- and Saudi-backed March 14 Alliance.

The launch of Nida 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 former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Last September, political daily Al Anwar disappeared from print after nearly 60 years due to "financial losses."

In June 2018, prestigious pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat closed its Lebanon offices, where it was founded in 1946 before becoming Saudi-owned. Its printing presses in Beirut stopped the same month, leaving its international version only available online.

In late 2016, Lebanese newspaper As-Safir closed 42 years after publishing its first edition, with the founder saying it had run out of funds.

"A newspaper can't be a commercial enterprise in Lebanon," said Charbel, explaining that the country's economy and the many challenges facing the print media sector make profitability nearly impossible.

But "the newspaper still has an important place despite the decline of print media," he said. "I think there is trust in newspapers and the proof is that the most read news websites are operated by newspapers."

Lebanon has weathered a series of political crises since civil war broke out in neighbouring Syria in 2011.

Shia movement Hezbollah is the only group not to have disarmed since the end of Lebanon's 1975-91 civil war and has taken on an increasingly important role in politics.

(AP)