A very revealing affair (2): Gad Elmaleh & the Lebanese Media
Posted by worriedlebanese on 02/07/2009
- Beiteddine Festival, operated by Nora Joumblatt (Walid Joumblatt’s syrian born wife) programs French stand-up comic and actor Gad el-Maleh in this year’s edition of the Festival.
- Manar TV station, that’s nothing less than a mouthpiece for Hezbollah, airs two “reports” claiming that Gad el-Maleh has fought in the IDF (Israeli army), denounce his participation in a Lebanese summer festival and pronounce him unwelcome in Lebanon.
- Tourism Minister Elie Marouni (Kataeb), Information Minister Tarek Mitri (Future Movement ally), Culture Minister Tamam Salam (pro-Future Movement ally), and Beiteddine Festival President Nora Joumblatt (oligarch’s wife) speak out against al-Manar’s reports and denounce them as unfounded.
- Gad el-Maleh cancels his three shows for security reasons
- Pro-March XIV media, March XIV politicians and the above ministers launch a campaign against Hezbollah’s “Censorship”, “Intellectual terrorism”, “Cultural hostage taking” and (my personal favourite) “bringing the image of Lebanon into disrepute”, and for maintaining the show (or having it “videoconferenced” from Paris).
Then let’s get to the analysis:
A rhetorical battle. Up to now, the whole “Gad elmaleh affair has been a “rhetorical battle” between el-Manar on one hand and some March XIV politicians and media mouthpieces (Hezbollah’s allies, most notably the FPM, have remained completely silent on it). As you have noted from fact #5, the accusations brought against el-Manar can hold no legal ground (except for the fourth one). This “detail” is quite important. Why have the accusers chosen to attack Hezbollah on charges that hold no legal ground?
No charges have been pressed. Well, the matter is quite simple. Under lebanese law, there actually are several grounds for legal charges against el-Manar and Hezbollah. So why sticking to polemical accusations, when there are three accusations that actually hold.
- El-Manar is accused of either disinformation or basing its reporting on dubious sources. Why doesn’t the Minister of Information press charges (instead of giving a press conference)? What are you waiting for M. Tarek Mitri?
- El-Manar is accused of attacking Gad el-Maleh on the bases he’s Jewish. Now Lebanon doesn’t have a specific law against anti-semitism, but it does have a law against inciting confessional hate, and Judaism is one of Lebanon’s protected faiths. Now El-Manar has been doing it for years. Why hasn’t anyone pressed charges against that? Why hasn’t the Interior Minister pressed charges against tmhat (instead of giving a press conference)? What are you waiting for M. Ziad Baroud?
- El-Manar is accused of tarnishing Lebanon’s image. I personally find the concept absurd and totally illiberal and antidemocratic (it’s no coincidence that it is mostly used by authoritarian regimes). But it holds under Lebanese law. Why hasn’t the Minister of Justice acted upon it?
Silly yet revealing accusations. el-Manar and Hezbollah have been accused of “Censorship”, “Intellectual terrorism”, “Cultural hostage taking”. Let’s take one accusation at a time and see in what way it is revealing.
- Censorship. My dictionary defines censorship as “the practice of officially examining books, movie, etc. and suppressing unacceptable parts”. The most important element in this definition is obviously “Officially“. Censorship is practiced by an authority that holds power. Hezbollah shares with Walid Joumblatt’s “Democratic Gathering”, the position of fourth largest bloc in Parliament (less than 10% of MPs). It has one minister in the current government (out of 30). Now that doesn’t really put it in a position of power institutionally. And the “anti-Gad Elmaleh campaign” was launched by one of Lebanon’s medias, not by an official media. Sure, Hezbohallah is armed and could endanger Gad Elmaleh’s life were he to come to Lebanon. But it’s not the only armed side in Lebanon, and a security arrangement could be found with it, like it has been found on so many other matters. So why do people feel cornered by Hezbollah?
- Intellectual terrorism. Here’s wikipedia’s definition (my translation): “the practice which aims at intimidating or silencing people by submitting them to arguments and intellectual pressures through publications, media interventions (etc) so as to prevent them from formulating perturbing ideas (regardless of their validity, falsity or disputability)”. What is interesting with the concept of “intellectual terrorism” is that it doesn’t have to be “official”, it can be operational as long as the people exercising it hold the upper hand in the specific field they are operating in. Now Hezbollah surely doesn’t have the upper hand in the communication field or the cultural production field. Truth to tell, its cultural influence is rather limited (and so is its participation in cultural production). So why do people feel cornered by Hezbollah?
- Cultural hostage taking. The charge is quite meaningless. It assumes that Hezbollah has a dominant position in the cultural sector and can define Lebanese cultural expressions or at least censor them, which bring us back to the first two “charges”. So why do people feel cornered by Hezbollah?
So why is the Gad Elmaleh affair just another rhetorical battle, and in what way does it reveal that people feel cornered by Hezbollah? You can look at the way some bloggers (Jester, Now Lebanon, Khaled Barraj) or journalists (Daily Star’s Michael Young, Orient-Le Jour’s Michel Hajji Georgiou) have been dealing with this issue. My answer comes tomorrow.