BEIRUT: Local media were urged Friday to avoid giving air time to “sectarian” guests, amid rising worries about rising political tension.
Journalists argue that such an appeal is unrealistic because it is the responsibility of authorities to address the rising sectarian sentiment, and maintain that media outlets are only conveying reality.
The call was made by Abdel-Hadi Mahfouz, the head of the National Audiovisual Media Council, following a meeting with Prime Minister Najib Mikati. “We hope that media outlets do not host sectarian officials and politicians who are engaging in fist fights and cursing each other [in talk show programs],” Mahfouz told reporters.
A delegation from the council met with Mikati and they both agreed on the need for audiovisual outlets to practice freedom of expression while adhering to the country’s Audiovisual Media Law.
Mahfouz added that the council would hold dialogue with representatives of media outlets to assist in the implementationof the law while preserving the freedom of media.
Mahfouz said that if violations take place, the authorities would act firmly.
For his part, Mikati hoped that audiovisual media outlets would report objectively and responsibly on the situation in Lebanon and the region.
“Lebanon has been able to disassociate itself from what is happening in the region and there are attempts to involve it in something it cannot handle. These attempts are taking place through media outlets, particularly audiovisual ones,” Mikati said.
The premier said the media should be aware of these new attempts to destabilize the country, “so that we do not contribute with or without knowing to dragging Lebanon to a situation it has succeeded in preventing.”
“[The] law protects media outlets and they have to respect it in order to protect themselves, and others against those who want to exploit them,” he said.
Ibrahim Awad, a member of the council who attended the meeting, said that the delegation was made aware that Wednesday’s Higher Defense Council meeting discussed the role media outlets are playing in the deteriorating security situation.
Awad added that media outlets were aware of the politicians and religious figures who were guilty of stoking sectarian tension.
Late-night talk show host Walid Abboud, contacted by The Daily Star, said he believed the call was a non-starter. “How can we distinguish between sectarian speech and non-sectarian speech?” Abboud asked. “All political topics have a sectarian dimension,” he added.
The Orthodox Gathering electoral proposal, the right of women to pass their nationality to their husbands and children, lowering the voting age to 18 and allowing Lebanese expatriates to vote in elections all have a sectarian dimension, according to Abboud.
“If I have to implement this appeal, then I will have nobody to host,” he said. Abboud added that such a move does not contribute to reducing sectarian sentiment.
“It’s as like treating cancer with Aspirin. The solution lies in eliminating the causes of sectarianism,” Abboud added. “The comments [by officials] will be sectarian and media outlets will convey them [to the public],” he said.
George Salibi, the host of a weekly talk show on Al-Jadeed television, agreed. “We can’t provide the solution because we’re not the cause of the problem,” he said.
“If there are people who use sectarian rhetoric, then let the authorities take measures against them,” Salibi added.
“If an MP’s remarks enhance sectarian sentiment, then why is he allowed to be in Parliament? Why don’t they lift parliamentary immunity and hold him accountable? Don’t I have the right to interview him [since he’s an MP]?” he asked.