BEIRUT: Talk show host Dima Sadeq and LBCI Friday cut short a daily political program in a sign of protest against repeated attacks on the media, days after the Higher Shiite Council threatened the local channel with legal action over last week’s controversial episode.
During a morning episode on March 8, journalist Salem Zahran touched on a controversial religious issue by saying the Prophet’s uncle had not embraced Islam before his death.
Sadeq responded to Zahran’s comments by agreeing with her.
The Higher Shiite Council condemned remarks by Sadeq and Zahran and threatened the local media to file a lawsuit if the channel failed to make amends.
“The show attacked the faith of Abi Taleb, the uncle of the Prophet Mohammad and the father of Ali, as did the host when she also said that the Prophet’s father did not convert to Islam before his death,” the statement said.
"The commission to report on religious matter sees that this media stunt is damaging... and violated a sacred doctrine relating to a religious figures,” it added, warning against “the dangers” that could result from the show given the delicate security situation in the country.
“The commission asks the channel, the guest and host to correct this blatant mistake, in line with the law and media ethics so that we won't have to consider this statement to set a precedent for the prosecutor's office to take measures” it said.
Sadeq wrote on her Facebook page that LBCI had come under “political pressure” as a result of the mishap.
In brief comments to a local website, Sadeq said her remarks were not meant to desecrate the Shiite sect.
"Zahran voiced a popular opinion held by a majority of the Sunni community that cannot possible incite strife or sectarian tension,” she told Janoubia.com.
In a sign of a protest against the Shiite council’s decision and the series of recent attacks on the media, Sadeq and LBCI cut short Friday’s one-hour episode to seven minutes.
Sadeq brought in Lebanese blogger Imad Bazzi to the studio, who has been interrogated several times for blog posts he had written, sarcastically warning him to refrain from talking about religion, the president, corruption and the judiciary.
As soon as the guest began speaking about the anniversary of March 14 "Cedar Evolution" Sadeq interrupted Bazzi to make a point about censorship.
“We should not touch on President Michel Sleiman because Ashraf Rifi is now Justice Minister and he will no longer allow such violations after he asked the prosecutor’s office to take action against Ibrahim Amine,” Sadeq said.
“We should not speak of Gebran Bassil because he is now suing Executive Magazine because they questioned him over $33 million in the oil sector,” she said.
She continued to list names of journalists who were persecuted over articles or documentaries they prepared on corruption in the Customs Department and the judiciary.
“The only topic we could speak of is Hezbollah, the resistance, and its arms,” she said, seconds before ending the program “because there is nothing we can talk about.”
LBCI then showed a black screen with the writing “This is the image of the screen as they like it,” with the word “like it” scratched and replaced with “the one we reject.”
Sadeq’s move drew wide support from fellow journalists and supporters on social media outlets with Zaven Kouyoumdjian describing the talk show host’s stance as “the power of silence.”
Information Minister Ramzi Joreige said he would follow up on the case to understand the "political pressure" the channel alleged it was under.
"The show made a mistake and corrected it. I refuse any kind of pressure or threats against a media outlet. We are with the freedom of press,” the minister said.
The incident came days after Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi asked the prosecutor’s office to take action against Ibrahim Amine, Al-Akhbar editor, over two articles criticizing the president.