BEIRUT: Supporters of the Free Patriotic Movement came to blows with other members of the audience during a live broadcast of “Sar El-Waet” (“It’s About Time”), a political talk show on Lebanese channel MTV, on Thursday evening.
The violence continued outside the studio and shots were fired. Some FPM supporters were injured during the fight before the army intervened to calm the situation.
Host Marcel Ghanem discusses political issues with invited guests on the weekly show, which takes place in front of an audience of activists and members of various parties, who can also ask questions.
This video grab shows a man firing his gun outside the TV studio.
Although many heated debates have taken place on the show over the years, this was the first time the arguments have escalated into fistfights and gunfire, all in the presence of MPs from the FPM and reformist parties, including Khatt Ahmar MP Waddah Al-Sadek.
MTV Lebanon, the full name of which is Murr Television, is known for its support of Lebanese Forces, the FPM’s political opponent.
“FPM supporters are no longer allowed among the audience of Sar El-Waet until further notice, while FPM-affiliated guests are welcome to express their positions,” the channel said later.
The live show was interrupted for 15 minutes after the fighting began. When the broadcast resumed, Ghanem demanded that those who were involved and removed from the studio return microphones that were stolen. He also said cameras were damaged and parts of the studio vandalized.
He said: “What happened inside the studio is unacceptable and inappropriate for an audience that was supposed to remain under control, although everyone was given the opportunity to express their opinion freely. We apologize for what happened on air and the security forces will take it from here.”
Al-Sadek told Arab News: “After President Michel Aoun’s unproductive six-year term, the FPM felt that it lost power. It no longer had a way to disrupt and provoke tension and everyone hated it. When FPM officials tried to continue accusing others of being corrupt, claiming they were the ones fighting corruption, I said the FPM should re-evaluate its experience in governance and apologize to people for its failure.
“The FPM supporters in the audience lost their nerve during the discussions. It all began when a supporter of the Marada movement agreed with what was said against the FPM. They started insulting him and throwing punches, so MTV’s security forced them out of the studio.
“It turned out that armed FPM supporters were waiting outside MTV’s headquarters and gunshots were fired. I had to pull my gun out to be able to leave the studio, escorted by members of the Internal Security Forces and the army.”
In messages posted on social media, FPM supporters said they had been ambushed by MTV. The channel accused the party’s supporters of coming prepared to cause trouble and that one of them, a woman, was caught on camera calling someone and asking them to come to the studio quickly.
The FPM issued a statement that said: “FPM student supporters were assaulted by members of the audience and MTV’s security, who dragged them outside, beat them up, and opened fire.” It called on the security services and the judiciary to take immediate action.
Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora denounced the actions of the FPM supporters.
“Some political parties that have recently suffered loss and disappointment, especially after they failed to disrupt political and constitutional institutions, are trying to fabricate political tensions and sectarian strife,” he said.
He warned against the clashes spreading onto the streets, saying that this would have consequences the country cannot afford.
Lebanese Forces demanded that appropriate legal action be taken as soon as possible to hold those responsible for the violence accountable, warning that any delay would encourage the perpetrators to commit more such acts, threatening what little stability remains in Lebanon.
During his Friday sermon, a Hezbollah cleric in the Tire area accused MTV and the talk show of being “paid to provoke the public and create strife.”
The Lebanese Press Syndicate said the incident runs counter to the principle of preserving the sanctity of media institutions and warned of the repercussions of hate speech.
The Media for Freedom organization said the predominance of militia activity over over the values of dialogue is the result of incitement that motivates a partisan audience to take unacceptable action.
Meanwhile, the FPM and its political opponents remain locked in a fierce dispute over the presidential vacuum created when Aoun’s term ended on Oct. 31 without an agreement being reached on his replacement. The FPM has refused to hand over presidential powers to Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s caretaker government.