Media casualties: did the opposition lose in the media war?

The Lebanese opposition may have won the military battle over West Beirut in the last week, but as Alaa al-Yusufi of Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar newspaper contends, they lost the media war.
Lebanon Media War

The images are stark. Observe the pro-government TV station  - Future TV - all but burnt to the ground by opposition forces with reporters and employees holding the picture of assassinated Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri.

Envision it is part of a different war taking place in Lebanon, a media war that has outweighed the violent battles between pro-government and anti-government militias on the west Beirut streets, at least for Arabs watching the TV news.

In this war, the pro-western government came out on top and Hezbollah’s image, if not distorted, was at least permanently scarred.

Did the opposition take its media image into consideration? Or were its media calculations only focused on winning control of the field militarily?

When looking at the coverage from the Saudi-owned pan-Arab TV station, al-Arabiya, the oppositions’ military control of the streets was nothing less than a government coup – “Hezbollah’s coup” – orchestrated by masked militants aiming their guns towards the Lebanese flag as fires were burning in front of it.

This was al-Arabiya covering the violence in Lebanon with an alleged objectivity, allowing for few opposition voices to balance the perspective. (Note: Al-Arabiya mentioned on several occasions that it tried to contact opposition officials at points during the violence, without success.)

Documented abuses of journalists, in addition to the attack against Future media outlets, have not helped the opposition’s media image, but al-Arabiya exaggerated the facts attributing them all to Hezbollah. It also attributed the armed attacks against a funeral in Tareq al-Jadeede of Friday to the opposition Amal party.

In fact, for al-Arabiya it simply became more expedient to reduce all of the oppositions actions to mean the "actions of Hezbollah," without describing the actions of the opposition’s affiliates – Amal, The Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party (SSNP), etc.

But opposition media outlets like Al-Manar failed to immediately denounce the targeting of the Future movement media outlets by armed opposition elements. Al-Manar went so far as to accuse Future TV of holding weapons, in addition to leveling accusations against Future’s own media bias – perhaps not the right time or place to level such accusations.

And while Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah declared in last Thursday’s press conference that there would be a new phase in the political and security situation in Lebanon – there were no such declarations about a new media landscape.