Why the Lebanese media industry continues to suffer

The news industry in Lebanon has been plagued by political funding, a lack of proper education among journalists and heavy reliance on foreign donors

Tarek Ali Ahmad
Tarek Ali Ahmad - Al Arabiya English
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What has been a growing fear in the minds of those who work in Lebanon’s media industry is slowly becoming a reality. Journalists and news presenters are being sent to the chopping block due to budget cuts, the rise of online journalism and political factors.

Last week, prominent Lebanese television host Dolly Ghanem was told to pack up her belongings at the Lebanese Broadcasting Company International (LBCI) after serving 31 faithful years with the station. Her dismissal was not the first and it surely won’t be the last as more and more employees across the media industry are fearing for their jobs – hoping their names won’t be on the pink slip.

“We are in a transitional phase. There is what is known as disruption and innovation and [things are] constantly changing,” media analyst and director of Media Unlimited Magda Abu-Fadil told Al Arabiya English.

“There’s constant change, but it’s happening at such a fast pace that media are having a hard time catching up,” Abu-Fadil, who is also a Huffington Post blogger, continued.

The news industry in Lebanon has been plagued by political funding, a lack of proper education among journalists and heavy reliance on foreign donors.

“Most of the media, if not all, [are] backed by political parties or businessmen that are loyal to these parties,” journalist Diana Moukalled told Al Arabiya English.

“Firstly, we have a defective media market and secondly, and more importantly, the media is funded [by political parties] and we are suffering from a large-scale political and economic crisis and thus the media was first to fall victim to this.”

Lebanon has nine television stations, one of them government owned and the rest privately held. Each television channel is widely accepted to uphold certain political biases depending on the political leanings of the owner.

While the Hariri family’s Future TV is widely seen as being aligned with the pro-Saudi Arabia Future movement, Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV is seen to be pro-Iran, for example.

This has compelled stations to depend on funding from political outfits, rather than advertising.

“One major setback has been the drastic drop in oil prices. So when that started drying up or dwindling, obviously there’s a trickledown effect,” Abu-Fadil said.

Earlier this year, Lebanese newspapers As-Safir, An-Nahar and Al-Liwaa sent out memos explaining the looming closure of their printing presses. An-Nahar and As-Safir pulled through, juicing the political money melon even further in order to stay afloat, but for how long will this be sustained?

The rise of online and social media has changed the media industry formula, and Lebanon seems to be lagging behind on all fronts.

“Today, we are in a pivotal phase and we have to reconsider how the media works. Do we want to continue [allowing] the media to follow political parties? Do we even have the capability of [allowing] the media to be independent of this system?” Moukalled asked.

Media analyst Ahmad Ayyash previously told Al Arabiya English that “the media wants to change and become modern and open to the world, but it does not have the capability.”

Lebanon’s supposedly-doomed media industry will continue to freefall if it does not change its ways, adapt and become independent. However, is that even possible?

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