Objectivity anyone?

On November 5 -6, media experts, academics in media studies, and panel participants from all around the world met at the Hotel Monroe in Beirut for a conference entitled 'Media in Times of Conflict: Did Someone Say Objectivity?'
By Rita Barotta, Menassat.com Staff Writer
Lebanon, Beirut, car bombing / ©S.M. / arabimages.com
Beirut, Lebanon, Sept. 19, 2007. The scene of the car bombing that killed MP Antoine Ghanem. © S.M. / arabimages.com

BEIRUT - It may not have been the best time to bring a whole lot of people from around the world together in Beirut, what with Lebanon facing one crisis after another. Not the best location, either, right across the street from the Hotel Phoenicia, where Lebanon's pro-government members of parliament have been hiding for more than a month to avoid assassination attempts.

But the novice Al-Akhbar newspaper begged to differ. It is the best possible time and place to bring together journalists to discuss one of the major challenges that this job faces, objectivity.

The conference was organized in partnership with the Danish newspaper Information and Le Monde Diplomatique, with the co-sponsorship of the Danish Government.

Menassat.com was there as an observer.

The Lebanese minister of Information, Ghazi Al-Aridi, officially launched the conference, immediately creating a polemic by his mere presence. For Al-Aridi belongs to the pro-government March 14 movement, whereas Al Akhbar is a newspaper seen as close to the opposition.

That was a good start.

The general manager of the newspaper, Mrs. Hala Bejjani introduced the conference and its means, purpose and aim, while Alain Gresh, the editor in chief of Le Monde Diplomatique, declared that the era of Western domination of the information business was over. (He was referring to Al Jazeera challenging the monopoly of CNN).

That was the second good thing.

Yet, what followed all along the two-day workshop remained controversial. Every speaker talked about his own experiences and tried to give meaning to the term objectivity. But no one seemed to agree on a definition. And no one seemed to believe that such a definition exists.
The conclusion: journalists seem to offer news, regardless of objectivity, since it seems to be one of the most difficult terms, even if they agreed on its importance.

What about neutrality, then? The answer remained vague.

So what was the point of the conference?

Well at least Al Akhbar tried to start a debate about objectivity, in a country and a region where many have given up even the pretense of it.

Another achievement: the newspaper brought two generations of journalists together: young media students and established names.

Yet, we have our word to say, some “if only” issues that might have helped this conference succeed:

if only the students were given more opportunity to talk, participate and join debate;

if only we could stop giving and receiving advice, and just start acting;

if only we had been given some written documents so as to follow up on the speakers' lectures.

Mrs. Bejjani came up with a very interesting proposal: to create a website that would allow media students to analyze and criticize the mainstream media. (At this point, she hadn't learned about the existence of Menassat.com yet.)

What is left to say is that objectivity, even if it is discussed in a thousand conferences, will always remain an illusion.

But it does no harm to talk about it.