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Media ‘intimidation’ in Lebanon as prominent TV host summoned

Marcel Ghanem. (Courtesy: lbcgroup)
LONDON: A prominent TV personality in Lebanon has refused to submit to an investigation into the hosting of two Saudi commentators on his show, in a case described as state “intimidation” of the media.
Marcel Ghanem was summoned by authorities in Lebanon after his talk show “Kalam Al-Nas” aired with Saudi journalists Ibrahim Al-Merhi and Adhwan Al-Ahmari as guests.
Lebanon’s Justice Minister Salim Jreissati asked the country’s prosecutor general to launch an investigation against the two Saudis, accusing them of libel against top officials including President Michel Aoun and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.
But Ghanem has refused to submit to the investigation, citing the rights of journalists, and warning against using his program in the current political crisis in Lebanon.
“It was demanded that I would be brought and requested to pledge ... that I would not attack the president of the Republic; I never did and won’t do,” Ghanem said at the beginning of his political show on Thursday.
In a statement on Friday, Jreissati said: “The time of media’s disgrace, which is devoid of any moral or professional controls, has passed.”
Ghanem responded, in comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, sister publication to Arab News: “The words of the Minister of Justice are returned to him. He is trying to infuse the media into his political calculations, exploit the political situation by shutting the mouths and intimidating the media.” “We will not accept such attempts,” he added.
Philippe Abou Zeid, producer of “Kalam Al-Nas,” told Arab News that the case amounts to the “intimidation” of the media.
He defended the show, saying that Ghanem had been a “balanced” host.
“Why would you (try to) bring a journalist and make him sign a statement (about) something he did not say?,” Abou Zeid said.
“Marcel played it like a fair moderator. But they wanted more from him … to say ‘no’ to the Saudis.”
Abou Zeid said the episode in question had a balance of guests discussing the political crisis in Lebanon.
“We made sure there would be a balance in the guests, so we don’t give the chance to the Saudis more than we do to the Iranians, more than we do to the Lebanese politicians who are pro-Nasrallah (the Hezbollah leader).”
Abou Zeid said four investigators had visited his offices, asking for the identity details of Ghanem and the Saudi commentators.
“Marcel refused to go to see the judge, because they wanted him also, maybe, to sign papers and say ‘I would never attack the president on my show.’ And this is against the freedom of speech,” he said.
Abou Zeid pointed to the history of intimidation of media in Lebanon, including assassinations of prominent journalists.
But he said that the pressure on the media today was worse than during the Syrian occupation of Lebanon.
“There has always been a targeting of people who raise the ceiling of freedom in Lebanon. And we refuse to be another victim of this … we will not go and sign any paper that is against freedom of speech,” he said.
The case has sparked a wave of support for Ghanem from many Lebanese politicians.
Education Minister Marwan Hamadeh expressed his solidarity with Ghanem and warned against any violation of media freedom.
MP and former Minister Boutros Harb underlined his commitment to defend freedoms and volunteered as a lawyer to defend Ghanem in any prosecution against him.
“Hosting guests in a program on air does not place any responsibility on the host in the event a guest violated the law,” Harb said.

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