Silencing Future TV: Magda Abu-Fadil and Sarkis Abu Zeid

Future TV employees and other journalists have taken to holding a daily sit-in in front of the Future News building in Qantari to protest the station's closure by Hezbollah. MENASSAT talks to media experts SARKIS ABU ZEID and MAGDA ABU-FADIL about the attacks on the pro-government media in Lebanon.
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Future TV employees and other Lebanese journalists protest against Hezbollah's closure of Future TV and News on Saturday. © AFP

SARKIS ABU ZEID is a Lebanese journalist, editor in chief of the Tahawoulat newspaper and former manager of ICN TV.

Sarkis Abu Zeid.

MENASSAT: As a Lebanese media personality, what is your stand on the attack against Future media? What do you think about the current situation?

"I denounce everything that has happened with the Future Media outlets and all the attacks aimed against them. There is an imperative necessity to consider the media as neutral amid the current conflicts.

"However, the officials of these media institutions claim that this is the first time such attacks occur, which is not true. In fact, these violent acts are a true phenomenon in Lebanon. In 1992, when I headed ICN, some members of the Future Movement entered our offices and ordered us to stop our broadcast. We were banned from transmitting, and 400 families stayed without a source of income as a result.

"Lebanon has witnessed many periods of suppression of press freedom, banning channels from broadcasting and closing others. In our country, we have an information law based on political quota. Hence, the media institutions no longer express the opinion of a private sector but are firmly linked to the political sects and are an active player in them. It is normal for these institutions to be part of the current conflict because they are surely part of the battle."

MENASSAT: What do you mean by "part of the battle?" Are you saying there is no effective media freedom in Lebanon?

S.A.Z.: "Most of the media institutions in Lebanon are part of the sectarian structure. When I see the demonstrations in front of Future TV, I remember how we stood in front of ICN. To be honest, I felt like crying.

"The real problem in Lebanon lies with the present media system. Journalism is a profession, and we should be committed to our profession. What we witness in our country is that each person with a political program gets his own media outlet."

MENASSAT: Then what is the solution, assuming there is a solution?

"First, we should study this ever repeating phenomenon. I'm talking about attacking the media and the journalists. The official institutions, such as the National Media Council, are obviously powerless. This institution has to play the role of the observer and the judge, and to find a law that could be applied on all. For example, there is a law banning any criticism to any Arab country. You are condemned if you criticize KSA, but you get considered a hero if you bash Syria.

"The media freedom in Lebanon follows the politics. We lack effective syndicates, and the media law shouldn't be part of any political quotas. Future is now paying a price because it is part of a war, and not because it is a pure media outlet.

"This is what should be fixed is Lebanon, for there is no real, professional and transparent media but only dependent, political and political institutions."

MAGDA ABU-FADIL is a Lebanese journalist and head of the Journalism Training Program at the American University of Beirut (AUB).

Magda Abu-Fadil.

MENASSAT: What do you think about the attack against the Future media?

"I don’t think that silencing people is fair, even if we don't agree with them. What happened with Future is a shame. The station should be returned to its owners and the broadcast should be resumed."

MENASSAT: Some say the real problem is the politicization of the Lebanese media which have become the mouthpiece of the political group they are affiliated with. What is your stand on that issue?

M.A.F.: "I'm against the politicization of the media. In theory, I'm against the categorization and politicization as it is today. The media today resembles barricades, which is very dangerous. However, silencing the institutions as such is not acceptable."

MENASSAT: Some people are qualifying the attack against Future as revenge.

M.A.F.: "Silencing others this way is not a matter of masculinity. If Lebanon becomes like all the other Arab countries without any real window of freedom, then all will be lost. This is what differentiates us from others – our diversity, our freedom and all the different opinions. Everyone envies us for this. Maybe this is why this is happening.

"I don't want Lebanon to become mute. Lebanon is unique for its voice, and for being a strong defendant of Arab rights. People are not stupid. When you are politicized, you don't need a channel to follow. They choose what to watch and what to listen to. Even if a media outlet is politicized, would that affect my opinion? All what has really happened as a result of this horrible attack is cutting people's sources of income.

"Is violence the solution? It was never so, and it will never be."

MENASSAT: What is the solution then?

"To invite those who ignore our history to read it. We are afraid of our history. If we read it, we would learn from our mistakes. Perhaps then we would say, 'We hope history won't repeat itself.'"

(Magda Abu-Fadil blogs about the Arab media at the Huffington Post.)