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Information in Lebanon : a culture of law or the law of the jungle?

Dr. Antoine Nasri Messarra

         Some lengthy political television programs in Lebanon merely present antagonist positions compelling the spectator to take sides with either one as in a football match.

This kind of program constitutes a daily systematic education, based on dependence, subordination, allegiance and controversial positions. The outstanding absent is the criteria ruling the public life, that is the rule of law, where every matter with no exception, whether a resolution of the Security Council, or a procedure frozen in a public administration or a hole in the street, is subject to a rule of law.

Lebanese journalists contributed to the diffusion of a legal culture. But due to the deterioration of the situation, the degradation of certain fundamental values and the spreading of a purely consuming mentality for quite a long time; the diffusion of a legal culture retrograded substantially in some courses of journalism, while Lebanon needs to recover the criteria power on all levels.

The Lebanese information has a patrimony and leading practices in generalizing a culture of popular law and the defense of the democratic rules (for instance, the program “الشاطر يحكي ” (Let the shrewd speak), directed by Jenan Mallat and Ziad Njeim, the appendix of Annahar “the people rights” 1995-1998, and the prize of UNDP program for 1998-2000 for the best Lebanese media work for the benefit of the Human Rights and development).

On the other hand, the superficial spreading of the Human Rights ideology contributed in developing a culture of “protest” instead of a culture of law determining the legal competence, the administrative responsibility and inciting the citizen to claim a right and exercise a duty. The journalist must express a culture of popular law adequate to each case.

This does not imply ending the political debates, but requires a base of legal competence providing peaceful solutions away from dependence and allegiance. Whereas politics in the television debates is nothing but law of the jungle, conflict, struggle, mobilization and maneuvers with an absolute absence of the public interest, the rights of the people and the rules of law refraining the tendency to seize power and dominate.

The rule of law is the criterion regulating the public life and the relation of the individual with others and with power as well. It is the constitution and the laws, the legislations and the internal rules of the schools and the traffic.

Nevertheless, this rule of law does not concern all the laws in absolute terms. Some of these laws, especially in the countries where the democratic concept is not deep rooted in the minds of the people and the political class, can be a tool in the hands of the powerful persons to serve their interests at the expense of others. The aim of the rule of law is to achieve justice, equality and solve the conflicts peacefully. It is the means to protect the weak against tyranny and oppression.

The law has been so distorted that it is no more conceived as a means of protection. Therefore it is imperative to bring back legality to its normal vocation of protection.

To merely mention the competence of law contributes in educating the people and to remind them that the peaceful solutions are easy when all the members of the society abide by the same rules.

The education based on the rule of law provides the institutional State where justice prevails regardless of the affiliation, the class and away from the leaders.

The press mission in Lebanon is in crisis because the journalists do not refer to the laws while presenting the developments of the news in Lebanon.

The articles and political analysis, and notably on television, must always point out the motivations of the public interest. They must explain at first the criteria of each case as done in the countries where democracy is a tradition. We need to clarify the rule of law and its effects.

What must be done on the practical level to improve the legal quality of the news is to enhance the culture of law. Because in the Lebanese collective conscience, the law means “penalty”, while the respect of the rule of law improves the quality of life and ensures the permanent development.

Every educational program based on law in the Arab world and especially in Lebanon, should take the historical context and the personal experiences into consideration in order to influence the behavior. It is essential that the legal power is not perceived as means of “repression”, but rather as a way to protect the human rights against the despotism.

The press media is trying hard to enhance the culture of law unlike some television programs that merely transmit the antagonist positions and confrontations without presenting the problem on the ground of data, facts, and examples and without mentioning the relevant criterion of the solution.

What are the cultural roots of the mentality of the law of the jungle that some media spread? The practice of the media career requires the knowledge of the communication techniques and the various methods. Nonetheless, this knowledge is not sufficient to ensure the quality of the content, the efficiency of broadcasting the media message and contributing to the evolution of democracy and development.

The main issues that confront information worldwide, while at the climax of its evolution concern the contents, the values and its efficiency in the social change. These factors are of legal, cultural and moral nature.

The cultural and moral heritage of the student comes from his family, school, political and social environment. It affects the professional practice in a negative or in a positive way. How does this heritage take form in the Lebanese society, how does it influence the media practice and how is it possible to purify it legally and exploit it?

We can note:

  1. The lack of general culture implementing the rule of human welfare: the lack of literary, philosophic and artistic general culture in the new generation of journalists turns them into mere conveyors of news. We are more and more in need of a specialized journalist, able to go beyond the instantaneous of the news.
  2. The political education grounded on the values of allegiance and clienteles: the educational methods of dictating, as well as the values inculcated by the infrastructures in the society, the family, the school, university lead to reproduce the structures of the dominating power. Nevertheless, an outstanding development occurred in the past ten years: the coverage of the society news and the information contribution in the culture of citizenship. Many fields, and notably the administrative information, witness a serious lack and attempts to deviate the information in favor of the beneficiaries of public services.
  3. The cultural alienation with respect of the Lebanese society nature: The knowledge transmitted by the educational means such as the academic education in Lebanon concerning the political regimes, the Lebanese regime, the rule of the majority, the national assimilation, the primary allegiances, to curb conflicts and compromising.. lead to a dissociation (schizophrenia) between the instructed knowledge and the experienced reality, and often to a complex of shame due to the political structure of Lebanon and the course of change. Information in Lebanon contributes largely in reproducing imported slogans and concepts instead of being critical, purifying the concepts and unmasking what is spread by the ideologies.
  4. The faculties and training institutes focus on the media knowledge while neglecting the behavior: The graduates of journalism faculties and higher studies show a weak behavior in listening, dialogue, hearing a different opinion, discussing and synthesizing contradictory opinions. There is a positive cultural background that education transmits to the Lebanese journalist as solid traditions of pact and respect of the social relations. This background needs to be exploited and sometimes rectified in accordance with its spirit.
  5. The social image of the journalist as perceived by the students and new comers to the journalism career: An inquiry of 1985 among the students applying to the entrance examination of the Faculty of Information & Documentation showed that the profession seems attractive and allows a star image, to be under the lights and make public relations. The students rarely mention the technical difficulties of editing or the functional and financial obstacles. Today, the impact of the star image and public relations doubled due to the worldwide spreading of the “leisure media” to be utterly distinguished from Information and its professional and moral rules. This leisure has a negative impact on the understanding and the practice of the career.

In order to recover the criteria power in Lebanon, we must:

  1. Consolidate the deep knowledge of the nature and characteristics of the Lebanese society, its political regime based on comparative studies without alienation, inferiority complex or shame in the educational courses.
  2. Include an assessment of the behavior concerning listening, dialogue, debating, hearing the different opinion in the programs, as well as the capacity to introduce a subject, to transmit the message clearly and briefly, to introduce, the precision and credibility in transmitting the information and to check its exactitude.
  3. Participate in renewed media programs in order to lead information towards democracy and development. Leading programs have been organized during the ten past years helping to develop the Lebanese information towards the “Democracy of proximity” (pages of regions and municipalities, the patrimony, the administrative information, the civil affairs..).

Michel Abou Jaoudé’s collection is an outstanding reference in this respect

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