When "PRESS" and "TV" no longer mean anything

Lebanese journalist Thaer Ghandour weighs in on the targeting of media outlets and journalists during the violence in Lebanon this past week, and the responsibility local journalists have in reporting events accurately.
It's been almost a week since armed clashes started in Lebanon between pro-government and anti-government militias. And in this time, both sides have justified their moving from verbal battles to the dialogue of the gun. Still, in this violent fray attacking journalists and their outlets can never be justified.

In one instance last weekend, opposition militia members shut down media outlets affiliated with the Future Movement political party, and then burned down the old Future TV station in Raouche. These were the clearest of attacks on media institutions - if not the fiercest.

As well, in the last week militia members roamed the streets of west Beirut threatening the lives of journalists, hampering their ability to transmit the news.

According to eyewitness testimony, media outlets have been subjected to "media discrimination," Al-Jazeera and New TV being two relevant examples. Their journalists were given "permission" to cover the news in areas like Corniche el-Mazraa, only to have videotapes confiscated presumably because they had the ability to broadcast live.

Add to this the numerous accounts of armed youth confiscating memory cards from photojournalists’ cameras – sometimes after having had their pictures taken in camouflage uniforms looking strangely similar to uniforms worn by official Lebanese security details – and the picture starts to become clearer.

Certainly, the words "PRESS," OR "TV" no longer mean anything.

Among Lebanon's reporter caste, such incidents bring up an old discussion about the role of Lebanon’s Editors' Syndicate when it comes to protecting local journalists.

Journalist in Lebanon often carry a variety of press cards, but if the Syndicate had a card with any real emotional value in civil society, it might have offered even the minimum level of protection to its holder – which was clearly not the case.

This is not to absolve the responsibility journalists have in avoiding bias and/or partisan reporting. Indeed, local journalists have been accused of exacerbating the current situation – characterized as the mouthpieces of one party or another.

Meanwhile, a recent meeting with members of the so-called Quartet Committee was an attempt at curbing such bias. The Committee, comprised of the Lebanese army, the Future Movement, Hezbollah and Amal, gathered a few months ago to discuss small clashes that had occurred in west Beirut and in the Beqaa Valley. The representatives from this Quartet asked the four main "partisan" TV stations to tone down their rhetoric as a means to bring calm to the situation.

Although the Committee in itself represented an informal denouncement of these TV outlets, they continued to broadcast misleading reports anyway.

It was their right to broadcast – even if the information was less than accurate, and as was the case with Future TV, inaccurate reports were no justification for what happened to their offices.

In the end, Lebanese media has fallen into a trap, and it is one that has been affected directly by the street fighting. But, the abuse of journalists cannot be tolerated, despite all of the problems.