Foreign media’s ’shallow coverage’ of protests angers Lebanese

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The ‘revolution not only attracted people of all sects, religions and social backgrounds, but also has become a powerful voice for Lebanese women. (AFP)
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Tarek Ali Ahmad reported from central Beirut on the ‘revolution.’ (AN photo by Youssif Itani)
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The ‘revolution not only attracted people of all sects, religions and social backgrounds, but also has become a powerful voice for Lebanese women. (AN photo by Youssif Itani)
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Tarek Ali Ahmad reported from central Beirut on the ‘revolution.’ (AN photo by Youssif Itani)
Updated 03 November 2019

Foreign media’s ’shallow coverage’ of protests angers Lebanese

  • Lebanon's unprecedented cross-community uprising is drawing global media attention
  • Many complain the protests are being unfairly portrayed by foreign media outlets

BEIRUT: Shallow. Superficial. Politically motivated. These are some of the epithets being used by Lebanese men and women to describe the portrayal by the foreign media of the ongoing protests against the country's political elite.

From Sidon in the south to Hermel in the north, Lebanon is witnessing an unprecedented cross-community uprising as public frustration with the country's tottering economy, administrative  paralysis, crumbling infrastructure and chronic corruption boils over.

From the very start, many Lebanese say, the protests have been mischaracterized by Twittering "armchair pundits" and sections of the foreign media as a "Whatsapp Revolution" because of the telcommunications minister's abortive attempt to introduce a daily $0.20 fee for users of Whatsapp and other internet-calling apps. Some Twitter users suggested the Lebanese "are going bonkers in the streets" because of the "Whatsapp tax."

It was not just comments on social media that many Lebanese found deeply objectionable. Time magazine had posted a photo on Instagram of burning tires with a caption that said: “Tension had simmered for months but on Thursday, protesters learned about the government's plan to tax Whatsapp calls. As the streets swelled, the Associated Press adds, that plan was withdrawn.”

The Instagram post spurred many Lebanese abroad into reporting it for playing into media stereotypes of the historic protests. But the attitude of some media outlets closer to home was seen as no less frivolous.

The New York Times carried an opinion piece with the sub-headline "The Middle East could use a decent country. One million Lebanese protestors are demanding one. Hezbollah has other ideas". The reference to “decent country” got heavy flak from Lebanese and Arabs on social media, prompting the newspaper to modify the sub-headline.

A Saudi daily carried a report on the protests decorated with images of what it described as Lebanon's “attractive and revolutionary” women, with the headline: “Lebanese babes: All the beautiful women are revolutionary.”

For a people who were defying deeply entrenched sectarian and political divisions to take part in the protests, such portrayal unsurprisingly struck a raw nerve. “They’re not taking this revolution seriously. They are not covering it as they should be,” Chourouk Kaassamany, a protestor, a protester interviewed by Arab News on the stairs of the Al-Amine mosque in Beirut's Martyrs Square.

“They are only looking at the negative part of the revolution, only those who are here to make jokes, to have fun, to dance. But they're not focusing on the serious people and the real message out of this revolution.”

The “revolution,” which entered its 13th day on Oct. 29, has not only attracted people of all sects, religions and social backgrounds, it has become a powerful outlet for the many concerns and grievances of Lebanese women, who have been participating in the solidarity rallies in very large numbers.

 

In almost all images, social-media posts and videos, Lebanese women have been at the forefront of the campaign, with their voices overtaking those of fellow male protesters.

To many Lebanese, a woman who kicked an armed bodyguard of a minister in the groin summed up the fearless, anti-establishment spirit of the movement.

The video of the incident, which went viral on Lebanese social media on the eve the protests, is credited by many with keeping the momentum of the protests going.

The footage shows an incident that occurred when the convoy of Minister of Education was confronted by demonstrators in central Beirut. When one of the minister's bodyguards got out of the car and fired his assault rifle into the air, it drew an angry reaction from the crowd.

During the scuffle, when another bodyguard held up his gun into the air, the now famous woman leaned back and landed a kick with her left foot on his groin.

The bodyguard can be seen staggering forward in a state of shock.

The clip is seen by many Lebanese as an accurate — and inspiring — snapshot of the campaign against political corruption and misrule.

“When they steal your money, corrupt your country, and pull a machine gun at you — you give them a quick kick in the groin!” one Twitter user wrote.

Another said: “Our women don’t just kick ass, they kick men with guns.”

As part of a collective outpouring of anger not seen since the civil war ended in 1990, Lebanese have formed a human chain across the country, joining hands along coastal roads in an attempt to span 171 kilometers from south to north.

The continuing anger against politicians accused of corruption and driving Lebanon towards an economic collapse has compelled the government to announce an emergency reform package among several other steps.

“Eventually, we're here for a reason,” Kaassamany said. "We're not here to dance, we're not here to sing, we're not here to party. We are here to deliver a message on behalf of those who cannot afford to eat, cannot afford to go to hospitals, cannot afford to do many other things.

“We are here especially the people who cannot take part in the protests. The media should not focus on people dancing and enjoying themselves. Instead they should take the developments more seriously.”

Another protester, Josee Arbajian, found the foreign media's fixation on the lighter aspects of the protests  “shameful” because the people of Lebanon are “out here doing their best” but are being portrayed in a frivolous light.

What especially irks Lebanese is the use of words such as “festival” and “rave revolution” in international media reports to describe some of the public rallies' throbbing vibe and ambiance.

For proof, critics say, one need look no farther than the disproportionate media interest generated by the scenes of a DJ playing music for a huge crowd of protesters in Sahet Al-Nour in Tripoli, of elderly people dancing and singing together in Zouk, and a full stage set up in Martyrs Square playing revolutionary chants.

“Lebanese have been known to have this spirit of perseverance, so if this is the way we have to protest, go down on the streets and stay down their all night and protest peacefully in a civil way, if that's portrayed as a rave or whatever the Western media portrays it, then let them portray it this way,” Maya, a protestor in Riad Al-Solh Square in Beirut, told Arab News.

“If you want to add music to it, that's fine. If it keeps people on the streets, then it's fine. It's not easy to protest on the streets day and night.”

Nevertheless, on ABC’s The View host Whoopi Goldberg showed a video of protestors singing the song “Baby Shark” to a frightened child in a car, which went viral around the world as numerous media outlets picked it up.

 

Predictably, Lebanese media personalities have joined the chorus of their compatriots’ criticism, with Ali Jaber, MBC's director of television and an “Arabs Got Talent” judge, taking issue with the way the protests are being covered by prominent international news outlets.

“Foreign coverage of the revolution in Lebanon was shallow and superficial,” Jaber said on Twitter. “CNN rarely mentioned the news in its bulletins, and Time magazine and others have trivially emphasized (Lebanese Foreign Minister) Gebran Bassil through the ‘hela ho’ chants and pictures of our beautiful women. Just think a little …”
 


Royal runaways’ media war follows them to Canada

Updated 23 January 2020

Royal runaways’ media war follows them to Canada

LONDON: Prince Harry and his wife Meghan may have quit Britain for a quieter life in Canada but their battle with the media has followed them to the new front line.
Harry believes “powerful forces” in Britain’s tabloids are waging a ruthless propaganda war to vilify his US former actress wife — and he is hitting back through the lawyers.
Having struggled with media scrutiny since their May 2018 wedding, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex abandoned their royal roles this month in a bid for a calmer and more independent life.
But their bombshell departure has made them even more of a story — and media, including paparazzi photographers, have now flocked to their Vancouver Island getaway.
Their lawyers have already issued warnings to the press over pictures of Meghan out walking the dogs near their luxury seafront home.
After a slew of negative stories in the British press, the couple are trying to seize greater control of the narrative.
But they are not shunning all publicity — far from it.
The Sussexes will keep working with their non-royal patronages, but now intend to work with hand-picked media only.
Meghan has already made a couple of visits to women’s charities in nearby Vancouver, while they continue posting content on Instagram, where they have 11 million followers.
Their success in becoming financially independent from the monarchy through creating their own commercial income will largely depend on them remaining hot property.
Ian Murray, executive director of the Society of Editors, which campaigns for press freedom, said the couple could not control media scrutiny.
“If Harry and Meghan had said: ‘we want to withdraw completely from public life and occasionally appear for good causes’, I think they would have achieved their aim but they seem to want to have their cake and eat it,” he told AFP.
Harry is “living in cloud cuckoo land” if he thought press relations would magically improve by him stepping away from representing his grandmother Queen Elizabeth II and moving to Canada, said royal biographer Penny Junor.
She said the situation could become worse now they are no longer in the royal fold, where pooled media access to engagements is facilitated through a long-agreed system.
Without that stream of content, news and picture desks might look elsewhere.
“The press might be less respectful than they were before,” Junor, the author of “Prince Harry: Brother. Soldier. Son. Husband.,” told AFP.
The 35-year-old prince, who is sixth in line to the throne, has always had a tumultuous relationship with the press, which he blames for the death of his mother.
Diana, princess of Wales died in 1997 in a car crash. Harry was 12 at the time.
A truce between the papers and the palace meant Harry and his brother Prince William were left alone while they were still in education, in return for a handful of pooled photo opportunities.
But afterwards, Harry quickly turned into a tabloid favorite with his party lifestyle and repeated misdemeanours.
He served 10 years in the British army, including two tours of duty in Afghanistan, and afterwards founded the Invictus Games for wounded veterans.
Harry was praised as a changed man who had found his calling.
“He recognized not only that he could do good things with his title — but also that he needed publicity to do those good things and that a good relationship with the press was very important,” said Junor.
The prince’s relationship with Meghan was welcomed across the board by the press, but media relations soon began to deteriorate.
Reports appeared of staff being unable to work with the “duchess of difficult.”
When their son Archie arrived in May 2019, they announced that Meghan had gone into labor hours after the baby had actually been born, infuriating newsdesks.
The couple’s animosity toward the press spilled over into legal action in October last year, with Harry suing over alleged voicemail interception and Meghan filing a claim over a private letter to her father Thomas Markle appearing in The Mail on Sunday (him having shown it to the tabloid).
“They are going to have to accept that their lifestyle will continue to go under scrutiny,” said Murray, adding that they were living close to the US border.
“The American media are different; they have a vigorous magazine market,” he said.
“There will be an appetite there and around the world for pictures and stories about them.”