Tuesday, June 27, 2006

“The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”

This column was originally written for the Freevoice Newsletter.

With these words Lebanese tv-presenter May Chidiac concluded her pre-recorded video message at the Free Voice conference in The Hague on 7 June last. She was referring to the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri on 14 February 2005, after which hundreds of thousands of Lebanese took to the streets, protesting against the brutality of his death, and blaming Syria. All over the country posters, banners and buttons emerged with the following text: The Truth.

However, (dis)covering the truth is easier said than done, as it involves an idea which is often coloured along religious, political and cultural lines. This very much holds true for Lebanon, a country that not so long ago, was torn apart by a gruesome sectarian-based civil war.

The sectarian divide is still widely felt in the country’s media landscape. Watch the Sunni Future TV channel and you are bound to get the Hariri version of events. The Christian LBCI (Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International) is regarded as a platform for the Lebanese Forces (LF), linked to the Christian Phalange group. To jog your memory, it was the LF who, with the approval of Ariel Sharon, sent a death squad into the Palestinian camps Sabra and Shatila in 1982. That said, only a few weeks ago, LBCI indicated it may break with its LF founding fathers.

And then there is the Shia channel Al Manar. Here of course, it is the highly conservative Hezbollah hand that rocks the cradle, giving you endless details of the military tit-for-tats at the Lebanese-Israeli border. And of course, Al Manar would not be Al Manar if it did not hammer home its view that the “Zionist entity” should be wiped off the face of the earth.

So, isn’t there anything in between, anything more independent, more objective, that is, insofar as news can ever be objective… Mmm, difficult, even more so given the present anti-Syrian climate, for today it seems that one can only be considered a good, critical journalist if one is anti-Syrian. Fortunately, on the newspaper front there is the English-language goodie The Daily Star. But there is also this new internet kid on the block: Ya Libnan (www.yalibnan.com), which also makes for a fairly balanced news coverage.

If, however, you are dead set on really getting a better grasp of what is going on in Lebanese society, it might be worth your while to check out the Lebanese blogosphere. Go to www.openlebanon.org, a portal of most Lebanese blogs and perhaps you’ll get to “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”.