BEIRUT: Talk show host Dima Sadeq and LBCI cut short a daily political program Friday 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 remarks made during Sadeq’s show.
In a sign of a protest against the Shiite council’s decision and a series of recent attacks on the media, Sadeq and LBCI cut Friday’s one-hour episode down to seven minutes.
Sadeq invited to the show Lebanese blogger Imad Bazzi, who has been interrogated several times for blog posts he has written, and sarcastically warned him to refrain from talking about religion, the president, corruption and the judiciary.
As soon as the guest began speaking about the ninth anniversary of the March 14 “Cedar Revolution,” 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, as 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 produced on corruption in the Customs Department and the judiciary.
“The only topics we can speak of are Hezbollah, the resistance and its arms,” she said, seconds before ending the program, saying “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.”
On March 8, journalist Salem Zahran, a guest on Sadeq’s program “Nharkom Saeed,” touched on a controversial religious issue, saying that Abi Taleb, the Prophet Mohammad’s uncle, had not embraced Islam before his death.
Abi Taleb was also the father of Ali, the fourth Muslim caliph, who is highly revered by Shiites.
Sadeq agreed with comments made by Zahran, a Sunni, adding that even Abdullah, the Prophet’s father, was not a Muslim.
The Higher Shiite Council condemned the remarks by Sadeq and Zahran and threatened in local media to file a lawsuit if the channel failed to retract them. It said that the statements targeted Muslims in general and Shiites in particular.
“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 matters sees that this media stunt is damaging in general and violates a sacred doctrine relating to a person,” it added, warning against “the dangers” that could result from the show’s comments given the delicate security situation in the country.
“The commission asks the channel, the guest and the host to correct this blatant mistake, in line with the law and media ethics so that we won’t have to consider this statement a precedent requiring measures to be taken by the prosecutor’s office.”
Sadeq, a Shiite, wrote on her Facebook page that LBCI had come under “political pressure” as a result.
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 possibly incite strife or sectarian tension,” she told Janoubia.com.
Sadeq’s move Friday drew wide support from fellow journalists and on social media outlets, with Zaven Kouyoumdjian describing the host’s stance as “the power of silence.”
Information Minister Ramzi Joreige said he would follow up on the case to assess 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 made against a media outlet. We are with the freedom of press,” the minister said.
The incident came days after Rifi asked the prosecutor’s office to take action against Al-Akhbar editor Ibrahim Amine over two articles he published criticizing the president.