A crowd of truck drivers gathered in front of the television news camera, their faces tired and bodies exhausted. They wanted the world to know of their plight, stranded on the Lebanese Syrian border for several days. One driver hoped the media would tone down its criticism of Syria to lessen his and other drivers’ suffering, as Damascus had shut its borders citing security reasons.
The driver is not alone in his wishes. Syrian complaints against the Lebanese media are partly to blame for mounting tension in bilateral relations, since the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Senior officials in Damascus have repeatedly made public their objection to the pictures, editorials, and statements shown on Lebanese television screens and published in newspapers, describing them as “hostile”. Before the withdrawal of Syrian troops, Brigadier General Rustom Ghazaleh, former head of security and intelligence in Lebanon, denounced the media and said it had unjustly criticized him and his Syria.
Anger about the Lebanese media is not new. Ghazaleh, like other high ranking Syrian officials in Lebanon , wielded significant power with a number of journalists and media organizations. As it happened, in the past, Damascus had used its influence to wage political campaigns against some opposition figures, in Lebanon and an abroad.
Since the 1960s, Syria has continued to blame the government in Beirut for the attitudes of the Lebanese media. Yet the media in Lebanon is not under government control, unlike in Syria where the ruling Baath Party totally controls all media outlets.
Officials in Damascus appear to be ignoring reality by forgetting the media”s mission is not only to repeat the views of the Lebanese government and the President. The media should reflect the various political views in society irrespective of its own position.
Oddly, some in the Lebanon responded to Damascus ’ accusations of bias by admitting the problem lies with the media and not with politics. They attacked the role of the media in society instead of demanding the Syrian government free its media and stop escaping reality by denouncing the western media and conducing extensive studies on its bias in favor of the United States and Israel !
These attempts are sure to fail in the age of the internet and open communication. No journalist or media person has the right to say they are contributing to improved relations between Lebanon and Syria by toning down their criticism.
Freedom of expression is a value we should not surrender easily for nationalistic or patriotic reasons whose only aim is to hide differences and objections.
The media in general, and in Lebanon in particular, is more complex than a fragile short-lived truce. Tensions between Beirut and Damascus can only be solved by honest and free communication. As for ossified language, its era has long gone…