As the world marks press freedom day –an opportunity to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom and pay tribute to those who have lost their lives in the line of duty- we cannot help but wonder about the decline of Lebanon’s once revered press culture.
Although it is often argued that Lebanon is [still] home to the freest press in the region, the press remains divided along sectarian lines. Journalists and writers must submit to an established political party in order to survive within their field.
For the most part, television channels, radio stations, and newspapers reflect the political views of their party’s leadership; manufacturing consent. There is no place for an independent thought in the current media climate. In a democracy, it is the fundamental purpose of a free press to inform the electorate. An ill-informed population is the greatest obstacle to a truly representative government.
In Lebanon, press institutions are structured around a fundamental schism. On the one hand, there is media that act as a profit making enterprise, gravitating towards neutrality rather that objectivity in order to safeguard access to the powerful, and thus investing heavily in sensationalism in order to increase viewership. On the other, there is media that act as a politically affiliated initiative and is devoted to contextualizing the truth in a way which is beneficial to their party. This media model relies heavily on donations from politicians or well-connected individuals, even though such a thing is against the law.
The result? A weak democracy and an even weaker electorate, fueling a never ending cycle of misery and hopelessness.
Perhaps it is fitting that the greatest criticism of journalism would not come from press industry itself, but rather from fiction, where ideals are spared the harshness of pragmatic thinking and the corrosive effect of compromise after compromise. This criticism is delivered perfectly by the character of Will McAvoy portrayed by Jeff Daniels in the highly acclaimed series, The Newsroom.
[Transcript available here]