- censorship - Lebanon - media - Syria
At the Murr TV headquarters, everyone is getting ready for a big night. The brand new studios are located in Naccache – a suburb of the Lebanese capital Beirut. This evening, tensions are running high as Murr TV is getting ready to go back on air, after seven years of censorship.
A little bit of fine-tuning… and the station’s directors can finally go live. CEO Michel Murr stakes his claim: he insists MTV will remain politically independent. For Murr, MTV was always a free Lebanese voice, at the service of all the Lebanese people.
"And today, as it returns on air, our channel will stand by the same principles. We won’t be tied to any one party, we won’t follow any one party," he proclaims.
Yet MTV has taken clear political stances in the past. Back in 2002, the channel’s anti-Syrian leanings irritated the authorities. MTV was closed down by force causing an uproar throughout the country.
The channel became a symbol of censorship under the Syrian occupation. Today, with Syrian troops out of the country, MTV’s comeback is politically charged. A revenge of sorts, just two months before crucial parliamentary elections.
Remaining neutral is almost mission impossible for Lebanon’s media. Here every paper and every network is backed by a political party.
For industry specialists, the problem is partly financial. Lebanon has eight national TV channels – that’s more than the advertising market can possibly sustain, says Jihad Bitar, General Manager of Comtrax Solutions, a media consulting company. "There is a high concentration of TV channels for a very small advertising market. So the Lebanese media depend on politicians’ help to survive."
In the run-up to June’s elections, the media are a key player in the campaign, taking aggressive political stances. For some NGOs, that’s a slippery slope. For Karim el Mufti, member of the Lebanese Civic Media Initiative Watch, TV networks encourage hatred and violence.
"Out for stereotyping, for racism, for sectarianism. With Lebanon’s past – civil war, military clashes like last year in May 2008, and daily brawls between students over political disagreements – the context is quite dangerous. Lebanese law does stipulate that the media should be balanced – but it is simply not applied. It's impossible to tame Lebanon’s political passions."
In this context it remains to be seen whether the new MTV can find a truly neutral voice.