Lebanon's election day TV coverage

Lebanese TV channels were united over the weekend for one major event: the June 7 Lebanese parliamentary elections. MENASSAT's Sarah A.I. presents this overview of the coverage on Sunday.

BEIRUT, June 8, 2009 (MENASSAT) - Hundreds of cameras were spread throughout Lebanese voting districts during voting day on June 7, while the live broadcast feeds were located in the “sticky” areas where the vote was tight such as in the north Metn district, Zahle, and the coastal towns of Byblos, Saida and Tripoli.

Daytime coverage of the elections was initially tense due to the high voter turnout – around 52% nationwide - and logistical problems at polling stations were also reported.

Stations spread their reporters in all 26 ballot centers, and on the whole, Lebanese TV handled the tense political situation with professionalism, filling airtime with news analysis and political personalities.

Between the reports come hosts and analysts that came to approve the political line of the channels or to express their biased opinions.

Saudi-backed LBCI (Lebanese Broadcasting Channel International), pro-government MTV (Murr TV), Future News, left-leaning New TV, and opposition stations, Hezbollah’s Al-Manar and Michel Aoun’s Orange TV all featured vox pops throughout the morning polling. Again, the high voter turnout dominated the discussion.

Of course the requisite conspiracy theories popped up during the voting process – mostly blaming logistical problems on their political rivals – “intended obstacles” one voter said.
A hotline was set up to field citizens’ complaints on voting day, and as some of these complaints began to find their way to the TV outlets, the Lebanese Interior Ministry took steps to assure unfettered access to the polling stations.

Interior Minister Ziad Baroud, was the star of both local and satellite TV channels. They “followed every move he (Baroud) made” from Beirut to the North to the polling centers and back to the Interior Ministry…

Most of the Lebanese channels used graphics to transmit electoral information and reports: New TV dedicated a news section throughout the day that tallied the number of voters and their distribution according to the various sects in every electoral district and then followed the rise in the voters’ numbers as the day progressed.

OTV and LBCI repeatedly broadcast poll results at the bottom of the screen with the contrasts between different districts.

As the day went by, talks spread about the possibility of prolonging the elections’ time to allow for those who hadn’t yet voted.

In contrast, Hezbollah’s mouthpiece Al-Manar had reporters in districts where the opposition vote was most crucial, focusing on any violations and alleged incidents of fraud throughout the day.

The day ended on LBCI with a special studio in which media personality Marcel Ghanem read some of the electoral situations, hosting the head of the LBCI’s news department, George Ghanem – his brother.

Concerning the satellite channels, Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya both featured the Lebanese parliamentary elections as top news items.

Al-Jazeera sent a team of reporters from Qatar for election field coverage in order to link “the Lebanese window to the rest of Al-Jazeera’s news journals.”

The regional manager of the channel, Ghassan bin Jeddo created a round table with analysts and politicians to discuss the immediate and future implications of the elections results, both domestically and regionally.

The Qatari station closely monitored the elections process from the eve of the elections, June 6 to the final announcements the following morning, June 8.

The field reporters spoke to citizens from all the competing parties.

Al-Arabiya consistently referred to a sophisticated “interactive touch screen” to present election-day graphics. And while Al-Jazeera spent more time on street interviews to get the facts on the ground, Al-Arabiya instead focused on studio interviews and analysis.

Al-Arabiya talk shows from Dubai, Beirut and Washington concentrated discussion on the possibility of a Hezbollah victory at the polls and what that would mean for the Shia party’s main international allies, Iran and Syria.

In a move borrowed from big western television outlets, local coverage was also mirrored by full website coverage of the election.

At the forefront of this internet simulcasting was the opposition Christian, Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) which posted news from all the Lebanese territories in addition to statements from its patron saint, former Lebanese army general Michel Aoun.

Also active online was the right-wing Lebanese Forces, a Christian party that posted elections news along with the statements of the Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir.