Back to the Future

MENASSAT pays a visit to Future TV's new temporary headquarters in Sin El Fil, where the station resumed broadcasting on Tuesday.

SIN EL FIL, BEIRUT, May 14, 2008 (MENASSAT) – At the security booth of Beirut Hall in Sin El Fil, a lone guard is standing in the mid-afternoon sun, his machine gun casually lying on a plastic chair.

Inside, Future's temporary new studio is bustling with life. The control room is a mess of shouting technicians, and reporters and cameramen walk down the corridors chatting and drinking coffee. TV screens are blasting the Future TV broadcast at full volume throughout the hangar-like building.

It is a far cry from Future News state-of-the-art headquarters in the Qantari area but at least for now it is home.

In the news studio, Roland Berber, senior executive producer of Future TV's current affairs programs, is planning the day's broadcasts.

"I was more than surprised," he said when asked him about last Friday, when Hezbollah militia invaded the Future News building and pulled the plug on the pro-government station.

"I remember when our West Beirut offices first opened we were joking about how easy it would be for an angry viewer to throw a Molotov Cocktail at us if they wanted. This is Beirut and not London after all. On Thursday the nightmare we joked about became true."

His grin disappears when he discusses the archives that were lost when the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, an ally of Hezbollah, set fire to the old Future TV building in Raouche. Among them was valuable footage from South Lebanon at the start of the 2006 war with Israel.

"It's stupid. We had exclusive footage and now it's gone. They managed to erase history."

Veiled threats

Berber expressed disappointment over the lack of protection from the Lebanese Army last Friday.

"We were told that the Army would protect our building but the one technician we left inside saw how gunmen went inside the offices, thrashed the place and climbed up to the roof to destroy our signal receivers."

In the end, Future TV and Future News, the news 24-hour news station, were off the air for only five days. It resumed broadcasting at 4.30 p.m. on Tuesday, airing Future leader Saad Hariri's press conference at 5 p.m.

While everyone is happy about being back on the air, there are still security concerns, Berber said.

"The network was told yesterday, through various indirect channels, that it would not be OK for us to go back on air," he said.

The security situation also affects the reporting itself.

"People feel threatened. There are some who don't want to go to certain areas anymore because of their affiliations or background."

The Future media empire has been heavily criticized for being a propaganda mouthpiece of the Future party. But Berber said that Hezbollah's actions in shutting down Future TV and News have only added to the bitter political divide in Lebanon.

He also felt that it has dealt a serious blow to Hezbollah's image in the rest of the Arab world.

"It's not logical for them to act this way image-wise," he said.