Are Lebanon’s print newspapers in danger?

Newspapers in Lebanon are taking a tumble one after another as a result of the political, economic and financial turmoil plaguing the country

Tarek Ali Ahmad
Tarek Ali Ahmad - Al Arabiya English
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Newspapers in Lebanon are taking a tumble one after another as a result of the political, economic and financial turmoil plaguing the country. Editors of locally popular newspapers such as An-Nahar, As-Safir and Al Liwaa have sent out memos to their staff signifying doom for the print era of Lebanese journalism, with the main reasons being instability in the region, financial debt and their inability to stay abreast of the information revolution.

“It has been building up for some time, they have been facing severe financial problems and money hasn’t been coming in which used to in the past from different sources, not just subscription and advertising,” Huffington Post blogger Magda Abu-Fadil told Al Arabiya English.

“Quite a bit of money used to come from outside benefactors and sponsors including Gulf countries - when that dries up it obviously trickles down and affects everyone.”

Several newspapers in the country are backed by political parties, which has affected the quality of journalism and content.

“Politicians use the media to have a go at each other like there’s no tomorrow, and it’s really tragic,” Abu-Fadil said.

Syndicated columnist for The Daily Star Lebanon, Rami Khouri, highlights the polarization such political agendas causes, explaining that newspapers “aligned with some political grouping or some country or some ideology end up just speaking to their own people and lose credibility in the process.”

Newspapers in the country either follow the March 14 coalition headed by the Hariri family, which is pro-Saudi Arabia and consists of a Sunni majority, or the March 8 coalition headed by Hezbollah’s commander Hassan Nasrallah which is pro-Iran and consists of a Shiite majority.

However, the ugly truth remains that being independent is unsustainable, said Abu-Fadil, who is also the director of Media Unlimited.

Raging conflicts across the region aren’t helping either. The war in neighboring Syria as well as Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries ending financial aid to Lebanon, have increased pressure on the country as a whole.

“We [Lebanon] are in the midst of a crisis that is linked to all forms of production in the country. Because of the political crisis and its consequences, we have been roped to the regional problems, and the Syrian war in particular,” media analyst Ahmad Ayyash told Al Arabiya English.

“This has really placed an economic barrier on us, a country that is still traditionally and nonetheless dependent on this [Arab] world.”

There are publications, such as An-Nahar, that are supported by Gulf countries even though they operate from Lebanon. Their financial backbone is Saudi Arabia owing to which they have been the leading print newspaper in Lebanon.

With the Gulf countries withdrawing its financial support, such publications do not know how to manage their financial affairs. “Lebanese newspapers, especially An-Nahar, are like any other newspaper in the country. If it is connected to an economic reality that is comfortable and blessed and sound, then it [the newspaper] is going to take advantage of this blessed reality and use it to make it stronger and more stable,” Ayyash said.

Another factor that has lead to Lebanese newspapers’ demise is the lack of media ethics which has taken its toll on content quality, believes Abu-Fadil.

“Because many of these media are so accustomed to being beholden to different masters, there is also the problem of media ethics, or the lack of it,” she said adding that sometimes you have a lot of nonsense passing for news that is not properly verified.

All this circles back to political intervention in the media, where papers ”don’t have depth, credibility, quality, range of opinion they’re just mouthpiece,“ said Khouri, who is also a senior fellow at the Issam Fares Institute in the American University of Beirut.

Information age

Falling behind in the arena of technology has also hit Lebanese publications hard as they have traditionally depended on the print versions for revenue.

“The traditional newspaper that provides you in the morning with what happened yesterday is going out of fashion because you have 24-hour news cycles now. People get the news on their phone and on their wristwatch,” Khouri said.

Social media has also made things worse for the traditional media, with all information being accessible at any given moment from anywhere in the world.

“It’s all about a captivating headline that attracts the audience,” Ayyash said, “and while the media wants to change and become modern and open to the world, but it does not have the capability.”

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