BEIRUT: The National Audiovisual Media Council and a union representing the sector Thursday traded charges over blame for the rise in sectarian tensions in the country.
The council, which advises the government on media-related matters, said it had studied the sector’s performance over the last three days and found a worrying use of the word “war” in the coverage by various outlets, likely spurred by Sunday’s assaults on four Sunni sheikhs in two separate incidents in Greater Beirut.
“On more than one occasion the word ‘war’ was used in the introductory segments of bulletins and in news coverage, which leads to escalating the situation of sectarian tension,” the council said.
The council also took issue with the use of live broadcasts “with no professional justification.”
“There was a type of political exploitation of live coverage and turning the scene of the incident into a platform for incitement and stormy speeches, which stoke confrontations,” it said.
The council blamed “some outlets” for a general use of sectarian, inflammatory rhetoric that harmed the country’s stability and civil peace.
The council promised to issue periodic reports on the media’s performance and relay them to the Cabinet, while at the same time putting the information in the public realm, “so that people learn about the areas of imbalance, and correct and guide the performance of our journalist colleagues.”
The group singled out Friday sermons at mosques as a special area of concern. “Tomorrow is Friday, which is a principal day for mosque sermons. We hope that the performance of imams will serve national unity, especially since mosques now have a key role to play in guiding public opinion,” the council said.
“Meanwhile the media has a primary role in calming the level of rhetoric, and in guiding people, and in the appearance of people who advocate sectarianism and strife on television screens,” it said.
But for the Union of Audiovisual Media Employees, which was formed last year, the problem lies with the “political class.”
After a meeting, the union issued a statement in which it said “the political class is responsible for the danger [of rising sectarian tension],” because it was failing to find solutions to issues such as the parliamentary election law, and a wage hike for civil servants and teachers, who began an open-ended strike on Feb. 19 to urge the Cabinet to take action on their demands.
The debate over the election law has been sharply sectarian in tone, as the issue of correcting Christian parliamentary representation has been dominant throughout the debate.
The union also condemned attacks on journalists, calling on sides to allow members of the media to carry out their duties with complete freedom.
In the wake of the attacks on the four sheikhs, Al-Jadeed television faced two separate incidents of harassment while covering the story in Beirut. The station also reported the theft of one of its vans in Tripoli, prior to Sunday’s events.
The council also said it was studying the reapplication process of licensed television and radio stations, whose 16-year-permits expire this year and in 2014.