MTV Has The Audacity To Claim They’re The Reason Lebanon Had Compassion For Istanbul’s Victims

I take pride in the fact that as individuals on Social Media, we got one of Lebanon’s most watched TV stations to worry so much about its reputation that it tried to discredit us at least three times since Monday.

The first round was during Monday’s episode of Menna w Jerr, when Dolly Ghanem said:

“Social media is what makes a big deal out of nothing. I’m from the war generation and covered worse things than this. but we’ve never been under this much scrutiny. Those criticizing the media as chasing scoops and ratings, yes that guy, isn’t he waiting and seeing how many have shared his words? Isn’t he also running behind scoops and shares?”

I guess Mrs. Ghanem’s annoyance that her lot is being scrutinized by social media is enough proof for us that we’re on the right track. If this scrutiny is going to force them to do their job better, puts them in their place, forces them to try to attack our reputation to preserve theirs, and fail in doing so, then we’re triumphant.

Watch the video here:

The second round of replies came yesterday when they said they chose their right to remain silent against such attacks, but still posted an entire article about the matter (link).

In that article, they compared the campaign they’ve been victims of as nothing more than an orchestrated effort by those who hate their freedom. They also reminded us of the fact that, once upon a time, they were closed down by Syrian-Lebanese authorities because they were very free. Yes, because that has anything to do with the criticism hurled at them, and all other TV stations today, from almost everyone.

You’d think they have the decency, as a supposedly respected institution, to take a moment of self-reflection and see what went wrong, but no that’s not even close to being the case. Instead of listening to the massive outrage at the way they’re handling things, they keep digging a hole for themselves.

And they’re not even done digging that hole yet.

A few minutes ago, MTV posted their second article since deciding to remain silent about the criticism they’ve received. In that article, accompanied by a picture of someone in Elias’ family member weeping, they decry that:

“Those messing around on social media have relaxed by now and stopped preaching…. If it weren’t for us, the media they’re criticizing, Lebanese people wouldn’t have felt this compassion to the victims of Istanbul’s attacks.”

Yes, they had the audacity to say they’re the reason we felt sorry and horrified that other Lebanese had been brutally killed, in cold blood, at the hand of a terrorist, away from home, on a night that should have been one of the best nights of their lives.

There’s despicable, and then there’s this whole other level of deplorable. No, MTV. You are not the reason we felt compassion to Elias, Rita and Haykal. We did because we are human, because we, too, have lost people and know the weight of such losses. We did because death touches us all. We did because they’re our friends, our family members. We did, in spite of you turning their death into a reality TV show.

It doesn’t end there. They try to justify the coverage they did at Elias Wardini’s house by saying that the reporter had forgotten she was a journalist at the family’s home and felt like she was a family member sharing in their grief, and that the quality of live broadcast goes back to the decisions of the station’s administration.

This kind of emotional, sensational rhetoric about a reporter suddenly becoming a family member and forgetting all her professionalism is senseless and the epitome of unprofessionalism. That’s like me saying to the family of a patient I just lost: oh, sorry I couldn’t do the best job that I could. I suddenly forgot I’m a doctor and decided to become a part of your family instead.

It doesn’t end there. They say that: “We were all affected by the tragedy that we wanted the people to mourn with the family, so we could all grieve together. It’s okay if the viewer is touched and cries for the death of his fellow citizens.”

Well, at least they admit it now. So let’s put it bluntly: NO. It’s not okay for you to use the family’s mourning to get the viewer to cry. NO, it’s not okay for you to assume you have to show me their tears for me to need to grieve. NO, it’s not okay for you to assume the role of a stage manager in my emotions and in my life ordering me to cry or laugh.

Moreover, your station’s administration deciding to show Elias’ sister receiving the news of his death, or Rita’s father weeping for his child, or even filming live from the plane carrying the victims home, filming them being taken to hospitals and their homes is the core of the problem.

But things are more rotten than this.

A couple of days ago, I was asked by a very respectable journalist who was not aware I had criticized MTV to give a statement for a news report about Razmi el Kadi. So I did. In about 15 seconds I said: “I’m not aware of whether there’s any legal basis to arrest Mr. El Kadi or not, but his words are not acceptable. There’s a sanctity to death, especially that of your countrymen, to be respected. The location of their death has no bearing on this issue when they’re this innocent.”

Soon after the report aired, a couple of MTV producers decided to subtweet me, calling me a hypocrite, to which I naturally replied that when you do a bad job, you will be called out on it. Someone, however, was way too offended by the fact I was, in 15 seconds, on MTV’s airspace, that they raised the issue with that administration.

Soon enough, the report in question was pulled off YouTube. A few hours later, it was aired on their midnight use re-edited to remove my parts from it. Keep in mind that the issue in question had nothing to do with their coverage, but was of a totally different matter altogether.

I don’t care in the least that my part was removed. But it’s a whole other level of unprofessional when some individuals who work in TV cannot take criticism and when a TV station refuses to host those who’ve criticized it. I mean, just delete yourself.

How childish can you get not only to be upset that you hosted someone who criticized you, but to make the effort – double the work – to re-edit the report and silence them from it? But it’s okay. I must have expected better ideals from a media that wants to advertise itself, in its own words, as “a victim of it being too free.”

But I digress.

MTV, when our Minister of Information Melhem Riachi questions, live on your air, when he questioned the point of you live covering an injured being taken to a hospital, of your coverage from the airplane carrying the victims, of your coverage at the victims’ houses, how can you even try to defend yourself?

MTV, it’s time for you to re-assess yourself. Take a deep look in whatever mirror you have and admit that you’re messing up majorly. Stop digging that hole. It’s too embarrassing.

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Why Those Who Insult Istanbul’s Victims Should Always Be Challenged, Not Ignored

I never thought that we, as a country first and foremost and as a region in the grander scheme of things, would so grossly disagree about our characterization of the victims of the Istanbul attacks. I’m not talking about whether they are martyrs or victims, but about people who are so full of hate that not only do they not mourn but believe others should not mourn too.

Those people have forsaken every ounce of humanity and turned the barbaric deaths of innocents as yet another event to correlate with their religious, sectarian or even political discourse.

Ramzi El Kadi & Huffington Post Arabi:

Earlier yesterday, I posted screengrabs from a Twitter account by someone named Ramzi Al Kadi on my blog’s Facebook page. Soon enough, the story was picked up by news outlets and it went viral.

Within minutes, Al Kadi was being called all kinds of names as if he were the only entity in this country and region regurgitating that horrifying word-vomit. Some were attacking the way he looked, digging through his entire online history and bringing it back to haunt him.

El Kadi had said he did not want to mourn the victims. He thought what happened to them was well-deserved given that they were at a night club, which is in his opinion is a disgrace of a place. To him, the victims – Rita, Elias and Haykal – were nothing more than sinners who had it coming for wanting to have fun at a “whore house.”

Unfortunately, Al-Kadi isn’t a lone example. You only need to head to Huffington Post Arabi’s Facebook page to see the exact same rhetoric being spewed by Arabs in the comments section. In an article posted by the page about Lebanese victim Rita El Chami, the comments ranged from those who were sympathetic to her sacrifice, calling her a hero, to those – like Al Kadi – who saw her as nothing more than – again, I quote – “a whore” for partying the end of the year away, wishing that she’d “go to hell.”

The debate in Saudi Arabia about the Istanbul attacks isn’t about their dead, but about whether they were at a nightclub or a restaurant, because that makes a difference in how their death is perceived. Palestinian victim Leanne Nasser is suffering from the same discourse back home: whether it was appropriate of her to go party the night away. It was her first trip abroad.

To note, Ramzi Al Kadi is saying his Twitter account was hacked. I don’t see why given there’s no value in hacking an account with 200 followers, but it’s a statement to be conveyed. Ramzi has since been arrested in order for his tweets to be investigated, which – regardless of how disgusting what his tweets were – is not something we should accept. Being an asshole is not a crime.

Hassan Hamzeh & Politics:

 

Al Manar reporter Hassan Hamzeh decided to insult the victims of Istanbul’s terrorist attacks from a different perspective. To him, this was pure politics. Being a Hezbollah supporter, he saw the attacks on Istanbul as nothing more than a chance for him to gloat in revenge and spite.

“Istanbul is paying the price it should pay” he tweeted. He then followed it up with: “Istanbul should pay more,” before concluding with: “Erdogan, you reap what you sow.”

To Hassan Hamzeh, the victims from all backgrounds are nothing more than pawns in his party’s political game, their entire lives and families and loved ones be damned as long as he can be satisfied that a city and a country he despises are being broken like this.

Other politically-charged social media users were annoyed at how the victims of Istanbul’s attacks were being called martyrs compared to others who “didn’t sacrifice their lives at a nightclub,” as if the location of where you are brutally killed has some bearing over the worth of your life and death.

While the Lebanese government flexed its muscles with helpless people like Al-Kadi, Hassan Hamzeh – with his political backbone – is still at large, free to roam and tweet more hateful things because he’s untouchable.

Why We Should Speak Up:

Regardless of where people die because of such vicious attacks – whether at a club, a brothel, church or Mosque – the sanctity of death should be respected. You have to be at a whole other level of deplorable to disrespect the passing of people whose only fault was being at the wrong place at the wrong time because you don’t like where they were or what they were doing.

When I first posted Ramzi Al-Kadi’s screenshots, people said that giving people like him such exposure makes them feel important and gives them power, that their negativity had no place in times of mourning. I disagree.

The best way for hate and bigotry to prosper is for them to run unchecked for a lifetime. The more we stay silent, the more we let such horrors fester in the minds and souls of those who are most susceptible, and the more Ramzis and Hassans we will have to deal with later on.

Our bubble as millennials or liberals has gotten us to think that the majority of people share our views and as such most will find the words of Ramzi or Hassan as abhorrent as we do, and that might be the case with many, but today’s world is far from being one where we can remain silent to people who insult victims just because they can.

Staying silent to people like all of those who insulted the victims of the Istanbul attacks in LaReina has a lot to do with why we are dealing with entities like Trump, Le Pen, Brexit and a rising trend in right wing extremism all around the world, why we are reeling from the effects of living in a post-truth existence where facts have become matters of opinion for many.

There remains a huge populace that lives among us that believes in what Ramzi Al-Kadi said, without them proclaiming it. We live in a conservative Arab world where it’s very easy to forget, as the only people we talk to are those who think like us, that there are those beyond our walls who believe that nightclubs are abominations, that those who frequent them are sinners and that those who die there should not be mourned.

Those people you want us to ignore are voters, influencers, mothers and fathers. We can’t repress them into a basket to be tucked away just because we feel like the higher road is the better road. To drive our society forward, those people’s ideas – not the way they look as many have criticized Ramzi – should always be challenged. We can’t shy away from the ideological debate taking place wherever we roam for fear of the challenge, or of upsetting others and ourselves.

Ramzi Al-Kadi and those who think like him think their ideas and beliefs are as valid, and should be applied on a more grander scale than just tweets or Facebook comments. To better our societies, we can’t just dismiss those ideas outright just because they’re horrifying. We have to listen, criticize, challenge the core of their thoughts.

The cycle of us versus them will never end if we stay silent and let the cycle perpetuate without breaking it. It’s easier to imagine “them” as enemies who hate the way we live no matter what. But “they” are victims of ideas that have been entrenched in their minds for years, and those ideas can be beaten if we take up the mantle of the fight.

The Lebanese Victims of Istanbul’s Terrorist Attacks & Lebanese TV Stations’ Disgusting Unprofessionalism

 

I debated whether to write about this issue or not for the better part of the last few hours, but the response by Lebanese media to the Istanbul attacks, especially with regards to the Lebanese who fell victim to them, is disgusting and horrifying and should not be accepted any day longer or repeated in any way in any coverage in 2017.

In a terrorist attack on a night club in Istanbul, an abomination of a human being dressed as Santa opened fire and killed 39 people, injuring more than 60 others. Of those 100 people, around 13 are Lebanese as per initial estimates. Of those Lebanese, three have been confirmed to have passed away so far: Elias Wardini, Rita Chami and Haykal Moussallem.

Lebanon’s three victims were visiting Istanbul, like many Lebanese, thinking it was a safe place for them ring in the new year. They were there with friends, loved ones, hoping for the last moments of 2016 and the first of 2017 to bring them the happiness they were seeking out on that dance-floor.

Elias and Rita were enjoying the Istanbul snow together only hours before tragedy struck.

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It’s heartbreaking how uncertain and fickle our existence as people and as Lebanese is.

Fewer things are as tragic as this: to fall victim to acts of terror, to have your death be analyzed a hundred thousand times fold, to be called a “martyr” in an attempt to normalize the horror to which Elias, Rita and Haykal were victims, and since this is Lebanon, to have your death become a national circus for your country’s media to bring in as many viewers and ad money as they possibly could.

Elias was a personal trainer. He was engaged, to be married. He was 26.

Rita was one of my close friend’s best friends. Her mother, who also happens to be her best friend had recently passed away after a tough battle with cancer. Rita had left her studies in Radio and TV to be by her mother’s side.

Haykal Moussallem was a married man, and a physical fitness trainer for many of Lebanon’s basketball teams. He was currently Tadamon’s trainer.

Elias Wardini, Rita Chami and Haykal Moussallem, I didn’t know you but I know many of your friends, and they all loved you so. May you all rest in peace, and may your family find solace in you being loved by so many this much.

Elias, Rita and Haykal were actual people. They loved, were loved. They tried to thrive, to build their lives, to reclaim things they had lost. That is a concept that is escaping Lebanese TV stations as they treat Elias, Rita and Haykal as nothing more than push notification entities to get traffic to their websites, sensational stories to get viewers to their channels and click-baits to drive ad money on their websites.

Dear Lebanese TV stations, let me copy paste the rant I’ve already written about you with its many expletives before I elaborate further:

Lebanese TV stations are so fucking unprofessional. How despicable can you get to go to the houses of Istanbul’s victims, film their families receiving the news of their passing, asking them all kinds of ridiculous questions. How the fuck do you think they’re feeling? Are they happy? Do you think I want to see people receiving the worst news of their lives? Fuck you.

It started with them spreading fake news, giving false hope to Elias Wardini’s family that he was safe and sound, without any basis, without fact checking it, without giving a shit how false hope is as devastating in instances such as this as knowing the truth:

They also did the same with Haykal Moussallem. Please note that both fake stories are the same; Haykal and Elias had jumped into the water:

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When it was clear that Elias Wardini did not make it, they set up camp in the middle of his family’s house, filmed them receiving the news of his passing, filmed Elias’ sister receiving the shock of her life and reacting to it as she learned her brother was no more, made the father of the victim cry on national TV, interviewed politicians who couldn’t wait for their moment in the spotlight in the middle of the family’s house.

The more news about more victims surfaced, the more they sought out their sensationalism. More houses were visited. More devastated family members were asked “how they felt,” as if they would answer anything other than “heartbroken.” More interpretation by all knowing news hosts, anchors and reporters were thrown at us about how those families were dealing, coping, and receiving the news.

It’s as if they’re not aware that those that passed away and those that are in critical conditions are people with loved ones and friends who are worried about them. It’s as if they don’t know, based on our previous experiences with the horror we’ve experienced on our soil, how devastating such events could be, let alone have them take place on what should be joyful celebratory days. It’s like they’re not aware of the theatrics they are doing, the reality TV show they’re turning those families’ lives into as they’ll never be whole again, as they’ll never look at New Year’s Day the same once more.

It doesn’t stop there, but even after PM Saad Hariri personally asked Lebanese TV stations to stop their coverage from the houses of the victims, MTV’s reporters not only refuse to do so but call on the Red Cross on live TV to come to the victims’ houses because some of their family members had fainted from the news. Don’t they have a phone they could call from? Or an ounce of dignity they wanted to preserve by not pretending to play heroes on national TV?

That wasn’t the end of it. Our media tried to play the role of the only heroes in this affair, with them being the only entity fighting for our Lebanese victims. Fighting how? With the charade they were airing. Meanwhile, our government was on top of things with a plane being sent with medical equipment to bring back our countrymen home, have all their medical expenses paid for, and have MEA issue free tickets to Istanbul for all families involved.

My heart breaks on this first day of the year ten folds. It breaks because my country is, once again, at the heart of an international tragedy. It breaks for Rita, Elias and Haykal, for all the potential they had, for all the love they gave those that loved them, for all the hope they had and all the days they had in front of them. It breaks for their families, who are as broken as this country on this horrifying morning.

And throughout those breaks, I can’t but be disgusted at how our media handle – and always handle – our national losses. We are not material for you to get money. We are not sources for you to be sensational. We are not faceless names you call martyrs to rouse emotions. We are people. We have lives. We have families. We deserve privacy. We deserve some dignity. And you, dear media, deserve a big fat: fuck you.

Lost in Istanbul?

I think not.

You see, when I landed, I immediately started talking with the Lebanese guy who sat one seat away from me. And as it is with Lebanese people, they immediately ask where you´re from and if it´s a familiar location, they start to ask you about people you may know from there. More often than not, you´re clueless about the names thrown at you.

But in that case, I was not clueless. In fact, Joseph, the guy I met on the plane, turned out to be from my grandmother´s village. More so, in fact, he was a distant member of her family. And apparently, he was on good terms with her brother. Where does Joseph live? Sao Paolo, Brazil.

Apart from yours truly being impressed by that at first, Joseph then asked me if I knew a girl from a neighboring village. I replied positively. She was a person I befriended during the many common biology courses we took together as we both finished our Biology degree. Why was Joseph asking? He was her sister´s boyfriend – for two years now. Yes, he made me guess and I did.

So naturally, being the chit-chatty person that I am, I kept on walking with Joseph and we sat in a Turkish cafe in Istanbul and ordered Turkish tea.
For the record, Turkish tea is like your regular tea. But Turkish. Get it?

So for an hour, I sat with Joseph. Then a very random tweetup with Samer, who happened to be in Istanbul airport at the time, was set up on twitter. So Samer joined us and we discussed politics, life, Lebanon, Algeria, Brazil, peace, violence… and then it was time for me to board.

I got to my terminal and behold… the whole group was shouting at me that I got lost. They thought I decided the exit the Istanbul aiport since we don´t need a visa. I know it was the first time I traveled but come on, I´m not that stupid. Try to tell that to a priest though.

Was being reprimanded worth “getting lost”? I think so.