BBC Pop Up’s Report On Tripoli Is Shallow, Garbage, Full Of Generalizations, Horrible, and Horrifyingly Silly

I’m sick of Western journalist coming into the country with their preconceptions in place and then going out of their way to find the right people for them to make sure they propagate those exact beliefs back onto their core audience.

I haven’t been discussing BBC Pop Up’s reports much, mostly because I’ve found them to be just another regurgitation of a lot of previous reporting on the issues they’re tackling. But then the crew of BBC Pop Up decided to visit the capital of North Lebanon, Tripoli, against all advice – or so they’d make you believe after all the Beirutis they know told them it was dangerous and unvisitable.

But our brave, courageous crew decided to risk their lives – hilarious – and visit Tripoli. They probably didn’t know that the most dangerous thing that could happen to them in the city is an overdose on sugar and an increased risk of diabetes at Hallab, but you wouldn’t have known that based on that 16 minute report.

Instead, what you got was an “in-depth” – which is also basically the same vomit that we’ve been exposed to as Lebanese from the extremists that still plague the neighborhoods of Bab el Tebbaneh and Jabal Mohsen. The cause of the fighting was never discussed – because labeling as sectarian and having it remain at that is enough. The gut-wrenching poverty in those neighborhoods wasn’t even tackled, even when a man from Jabal Mohsen said – and I quote: “When I don’t have any money and then someone gives me $3000-4000, and asks me to fight. This is how they attract people.”

You’d think that statement, coupled with a previous one about how Ali – the man in question – was being paid 50,000LL to throw a grenade during the fighting between Bab el Tebbaneh and Jabal Mohsen, which has been over for about 3 years now, would prompt them to change direction of their reporting and delve deeper into the root of the city’s fighting.

Spoiler alert: it did not.

Not even when Ali agreed with the Sunni protestors who were the centerpiece of the report, with a protest calling on the government to free the jailed Islamists, a recurrent but ultimately fringe topic in the Lebanese political spectrum but one which made it onto a 16 minute report about an entire city, labeling it Islamist anyway, did the nature of the report change.

Even when Ali mentioned that a lot of those jailed people had nothing to do with the fighting and those who did were being manipulated by leaders higher up the echelons who are still free today, the report still did not veer from the goal it had set for itself the moment that random Beiruti told the British crew that Tripoli was unsafe: we are here to show that this place is different from Beirut, and that it is dangerous and that people here are extremists.

Extremism? Nice. Going to the poor areas of a city and labeling it all based on them? Amazing.

Delving into the cause of that “extremism” and poverty? Meh, who has time for that.

The magnum opus comes when they interview one man who’s asked about Shariah Law, before he says that everyone in the city wants that, somehow making his statement a valid proposition in the eye of the reporter. His rhetoric was not challenged, neither on the spot nor in a voice over that shows that not to be in the case in the other side of Tripoli, the majority, that BBC Pop Up did not try to cover because it doesn’t fit into what they’re trying to advance in the documentary.

The twist though is that that wasn’t what the man said, according to eye-witnesses who were there at that moment. What he said was: as a Muslim, I agree with the Shariah but this can never be applied in Lebanon where we have such diversity. This didn’t fit with what BBC wanted to portray so they cut his words and edited them the way they wanted.

The only saving grace is the brief mention of March, and the tremendous work that the organization is doing in Tripoli, with it bringing together both sides of the conflict and trying to change their perspective on how it is to live together. March has brought young people from both sides into a play that has toured Lebanon. They’ve also built a coffee shop that’s run by the people of the area, and they’ve renovated and fixed up the fighting-ravaged markets of the area into “Bab El Dahab,” without the help of any local politician, some of whom tried to take credit for the initiative.

For BBC Pop Up, Tripoli is Syria Street and the two factions that live on either side of it. The city of over half a million people is represented, in their eyes, by the tens of thousands who live in stinking poverty in those two neighborhoods, effectively making it okay for them to title a piece that would be broadcast to the world: Tripoli: Extremist City?

The title is horrible. The report is shallow as hell. The reporting is horrifyingly silly. The generalizations are ridiculous. The overall result is garbage. You’d think that an organization with their resources would actually have the decency to delve deeper into the conflict, but no luck. Instead, what we got was the same kind of report that Lebanese media used to do back when the fighting was still ongoing: no substance, no style, barely scraping the surface. Except this time the report is international, and not on a narrow Lebanese level for the parents of those who live in Beirut to forbid their children from going up North because “it’s dangerous.”

The fact of the matter is Tripoli is not dangerous. Not even those parts that the BBC reporter visited are dangerous: they’re just people who’ve been dealt a very bad hand at life trying to make the best of what was given to them and who are trying to find a new normal after their war. But that’s too mundane to be reported on I guess.

The fact of the matter is that beyond the narrow Syria Street is a city that’s trying to reclaim its position on the Lebanese level: with festivals, events trying to bring in people from other parts of the country, attempts at revamping its image, among other things. Of course, that’s not cool enough to be reported on because who needs another city trying to paint itself cosmopolitan in Lebanon when you can have a new Qandahar instead?

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Wikipedia Saves Mauritanian From Deportation At Beirut Airport: Border Officer Didn’t Know His Country Was Arab

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At the Arab League Summit last year, the biggest scandal wasn’t how Arabs couldn’t get their business together (as usual) to set a path in solving the many problems facing their countries, but how the Lebanese delegation completely humiliated itself and the country it’s representing.

Instead of being thankful for the host country, the Lebanese delegation complained about their infrastructure, because as you know Lebanon leads the way in that regard. They were appalled how Nouakchott didn’t have 5 star hotels for them to be hosted in, devastated at how the summit was being held in a tent, and completely beyond themselves that they had to go through that, in yet another episode of the tough life of a Lebanese politician.

So to make it work, they charged the Lebanese taxpayer to host them in Morocco for the night, then have them travel to Nouakchott the following day for the Summit before leaving Mauritania. The host country then responded in a scathing news report.

But it seems that our streak with insulting Mauritania and its people continues when one of Maurtania’s top and most controversial journalists for his calls for a secular non-Islamic state in his country, Hanevy Dahah, landed in Beirut’s airport.

As our border control personnel flipped through his passport, he was asked about his entry visa, to which Hanevy replied that Mauritania is an Arab country whose citizens can enter Lebanon without a visa if they have $2000 on them as well as a round-trip ticket, emphasizing that Middle East Airlines, Lebanon’s official airlines, wouldn’t have brought him in hadn’t they made sure he fulfilled the requirements to enter Lebanese soil.

The border control officer was not satisfied with the answer, and he referred Hanevy to another officer who was not convinced that Mauritania is an Arab country to which the rules Mr. Dahah illustrated actually applied. A discussion among our airport’s border control officers ensued about whether Mauritania was, in fact, an Arab country or not, to which a senior officer decided, after being racist towards Hanevy because of the darker color of his skin, that Mauritania wasn’t Arab and wanted to deport Hanevy.

A few moments later, the second officer who had decided Mauritania wasn’t an Arab country went on Wikipedia, came back to her superior and informed him of her findings to which the superior replied: “oh right, they added it to the list of Arab countries recently.”

Hanevy was eventually permitted entry to Lebanon.

I guess a good part of Beirut’s border protection officers missed out on that 7th grade geography lession, which is then repeated yearly until graduation, that: “موريتانيا دولة عربية وعاصمتها نواكشوط.”

It’s unacceptable for a citizen of any country, let alone those of which we are ignorant about, to have to go through what Hanevy did. Mr. Dahah was lucky enough one of the officers doubted her pre-conceptions enough to search for the information online. But shouldn’t there be a database for our border officers to check the requirements of entry for a country’s citizens based on who issued their passports? This is gross incompetence, and reflects badly on the Lebanese government and the state of Beirut’s airport.

At a time when our officers would have no issue whatsoever letting Westerners in without any ounce of vetting, it’s horrible that some people from countries that many Lebanese would view themselves as being superior to have to go through what Hanevy Dahah did.

How can we, as Lebanese, be up in arms that our own citizens might face discrimination and ignorance in American and European airports when some of our officers are doing worse to citizens who have the full legal right to enter our country?

But thanks Wikipedia, saving people from deportation and helping people graduate from college since 2001.

Foreign Journalists, Can You Stop The Cliche & Poorly Researched Articles About Lebanon?

Dear Foreign Journalists,

We, as Lebanese people, absolutely adore the pride booster injections that you give us whenever you write about Beirut or our country.

In other words, the country gets a massive hard-on whenever you take the time to write an article about Beirut, or about how much of an “exotic” destination for tourism Lebanon is. Many of us (not me, to be honest) rise above the cliche of the articles because we believe they serve the greater good: to show the country in a better light, to show Beirut as a cosmopolitan city, and what have you.

But – and to put this gently – there’s just so much that you can say about a city being a party capital and about a people being party-loving before it becomes not only redundant, but utterly nauseating to read à la “oh look, it’s another one of those articles.”

I know that writing those articles gets you a lot of clicks and attention – blame our clicking-loving-Lebanese-fingers for that, but what needs to be said is the following.

Over the past couple of days, an article by The Telegraph by Ruth Sherlock – a foreign correspondent based in Beirut – has been making the rounds, aptly titled: “War is a million miles away when the Lebanese begin to party.” 

The article started off with a picture of a woman drinking champagne, with the caption indicating that the woman was doing so at a recent election, noting that the most recent election we’ve had was in 2009. But that’s not the “best” part about the picture.

Lebanon Telegraph Article

The author naturally assumed that the woman in question was Christian, because sectarian and religious designations by Western Journalists are perfectly fine when talking about Lebanon.

How is that woman Christian? I guess it’s because she’s unveiled? Because as we all know, there isn’t a single Muslim woman in the country who isn’t veiled. I should get the memo out to my friends. Or is it because she’s drinking alcohol? Because, as we all know there isn’t a single Muslim who happens to be female who likes to drink alcohol in this country? I should also get the memo to my party-loving friends; but please don’t get any ideas about writing articles about alcohol-loving Lebanese-Muslim women, I beseech you.

The article then goes on and on about Lebanon’s love for plastic surgery, because this is not new. What is new, however, is that we – as Lebanese – like to throw extravagant parties worth over $200,000 and weddings worth over $300,000.

I don’t know about you but I, as a Lebanese, currently have $30 in my bank account. Not only does my entire worth not equate $200,000, but I’ve never seen such money in my life before. This is to say that when you talk to an event organizer serving the Lebanese 0.3% in order to get an assessment of the other 99.7%, you are bound to – and forgive my French – fuck up. For reference on Lebanon’s distribution of wealth and why the notion of $200,000 events being the norm is completely erroneous, check the following article.

And because the Lebanese cliché is never really fulfilled without mentioning religion a few dozen times in a 500 word article, The Telegraph article made the very astute observation that Lebanese put sect before country, also known as something my not-yet-born cousin would gladly tell you on any of her sonograms.

The religious cliché also needs a good dose of how communities are segregated into East and West, Christian versus Muslim and how they rarely interact, with the occasional sectarian and probably senile man still living in 1965 who thinks those who pray differently are inherently bad people, although I have to admit the notion is not particularly erroneous among many people of the Lebanese populace, but it’s all very “been-there-done-that” topic wise, especially when name-dropping neighborhoods for their sectarian affiliation, and doing so erroneously; as far as I know, Basta is very Sunni.

Do not, however, and I beseech you again, go into how the Sunni-Shiite conflict of the region is having repercussions on Lebanon because that’s another overdone topic or how precious and vital Lebanon’s Christians are for the region because they, out of all denominations in the country, don’t need their self-worth inflamed any more.

Then, because it’s never an article about Lebanon without mentioning power cuts and how we don’t agree on our history post 1943, The Telegraph article aptly drops those, as if they’re coloring by number. Pastel color green goes into box number 3.

When you want to write an article about Lebanon, please don’t interview a party planner for the 1%, a businessman who is among the 1% and an old man who was probably taken aback by the presence of a foreigner, and was more than willing to blurt out anything, pile up the bunch together and call it an “article.”

I understand that Lebanon is not your target audience in such pieces; but we will be reading them anyway. Similarly, I assume you’d also be appalled if I wrote an article about the United Kingdom and mixed up Scotland with England, or if I wrote an article about New York City and I assumed the entire city is nothing more than Manhattan’s Financial District.

The Telegraph isn’t the only publication to do this. The examples are endless, from the Guardian to the Washington Times. It’s always the same topic over, and over again.

As a rule of thumb, the following headlines are so overdone they’re dead: Lebanon and parties, Lebanon and war, Lebanon and religious diversity, Lebanon and electricity &/or internet, Lebanon and the proximity of the beach to the mountain, Lebanon and skiing plus swimming in the same day, Lebanon and the active presence of Christians.

If you absolutely feel the need to write about any of the aforementioned topics, however, please, please do read the other twenty million articles written in the same vein, and try to give a new perspective, one that local media fails to produce because of the toes they’re afraid of stepping on, and one which both your Lebanese and local readers alike will find refreshing.

PS: The picture of the Church next to the Mosque in Downtown Beirut is a big no-no.

beirut-church-mosque

Best,

A disgruntled reader.

 

Ignorant Lebanese “Journalism”

When I was about thirteen, the talk of the nation was about satanism. People used to go on televisions to tell us how these people desecrate the Holy Communion, have sex in graveyards and whatnot. And at thirteen, I believed all the stories. Education at school also geared us towards fearing such cults. They instilled fear in us. They warned us about the dangers of the music they use, which might infiltrate our minds with the subtle messages interspersed between their notes. So I never got into any form of metal music – because metal equaled satanism. And that’s what I was told.

Things today are very different, to me at least. I barely watch any Lebanese TV because I believe it’s absolutely pointless to do so and I fail to see any rewarding experience coming out of it, except to get me more exasperated at the state of decadence we’ve reached as a nation.

Joe Maalouf, MTV’s prodigy “journalist”, has found his name synonymous with controversy in recent months. It started with homophobic reporting about homosexuality. Some Lebanese responded. MTV responded back. The responses died. Joe Maalouf stayed… and he’s at it again.

In a November 6th episode, Maalouf went back to the same subject that was being discussed when I was thirteen, almost ten years years ago, to say how all metal bands are cult-worshippers, teaching our children and teenagers the arts of satanism. Here’s a link for the episode if you’re interested.

Absolutely stupid? You bet. But Joe Maalouf isn’t the only one. Every weekly episode of Malek Maktabi’s show: Ahmar bl Khatt el 3arid is a reminder that cheap journalism is popular journalism. Maktabi gets guests that are as taken out of society as you could get and imposes them upon his viewers as fact. His attitude as he presents one ridiculous topic after the other is that of a know-it-all who’s taking himself way too seriously.

The result of both Maalouf and Maktabi’s approaches, which are very similar, is a broad viewership that is taking in what they’re saying as scripture, which is even worse when you know that both TV shows are some of the most watched on their corresponding channels, data that I obtained from a TV private source a few weeks back. Yes, those metal bands are all satanist. Those people from Akkar are all demented. Those women who like to sing are all whores. And the list goes on and on.

The viewer is not to be blamed for the monstrosities committed against him. You can’t just say it’s the fault of the person who has nothing else to do than watch TV for believing what TV station is throwing at them. It’s the fault of TV stations and platforms that allow such content to be broadcast from their airways without vetting it.

No, I’m not talking about censorship. I’m talking about monitoring of quality. Maalouf & Maktabi should not be allowed to present absolutely ridiculous information as facts to viewers and be able to call upon equally unqualified “testimonies” in order to prove a moot point that is not valid in any way. They should not be allowed to tell viewers how “many more unspeakable things happen behind closed doors.” What closed doors are they taking about? What things are they referring to?

The sad thing is it’s not only Maalouf and Maktabi. Ignorant Lebanese journalism goes to political talk shows which rehash the same arguments at people over and over again, most of them unfounded, in the hope that one sticks. Ignorance is also in news reports, such as the HIV in Pepsi incidence recently, which people also believe because, I mean, how could the news be wrong? How could anything that makes it to TV, for that matter, be wrong?

I am not a journalist and I don’t intend to be one. But, as a viewer and possible audience of such TV shows, I know what I’m getting is ridiculous. I know that my TV stations should offer us something more mentally stimulating than the mental vomit they keep hurling at us with a lot of people taking it in. I know that what’s happening on our airwaves daily is not right. And I know that Malek Maktabi, Joe Maalouf and countless other self-proclaimed journalists are a bunch of ignorants whose words should never be taken to more than what they are: utter crap. Maalouf and Maktabi are a disgrace that graces our TV screens in a weekly manner to bestow upon us their eternally craptastic wisdom.

The problem is the collective of the Lebanese society thinks their crap is gold. They think Maalouf and Maktabi and others like them are absolutely right, every single time, and the cycle of willful ignorance of the Lebanese community continues because ignorance is truly bliss and dismissing entire demographics, entire discographies, entire mentalities because of the psychological complexes of a TV anchor is much easier than going on a limb to see that the presumed golden TV we get is crap at its best.

Now Lebanon Censored… By Saad Hariri

Beirut Spring has just reported that a Now Lebanon article criticizing Saad Hariri and praising Najib Mikati has been pulled offline by the website. You can check out a screenshot of the article here.

If you’re interested in reading it, here’s a transcript (via Qifa Nabki):

The Baby and the Bathwater

If we are to believe a report in al-Joumhouria newspaper on Monday, French President François Hollande and Saudi Arabian King Abdullah, in a meeting also attended by former Lebanese PM and Future Movement leader Saad Hariri, will not back current Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Miqati if a new government is formed.

Do the Lebanese not have a say in any of this? We should worry at the carefree way in which Lebanon’s future is always being decided by outside actors, no matter who they are. The region is already polarized between the Sunni and Shiite communities in a dangerous standoff between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Such horse-trading will only serve to entrench further the sense that foreign powers control Lebanon’s destiny and that each side of the political divide is justified in having its regional backer.

Another worrying aspect was the presence of Hariri, a man who must surely concede that his role in Lebanese political life must now be confined to the margins of Sunni politics. He is living in LaLa Land if he still feels that the Lebanese public would welcome him back with open arms and see him as their salvation. In fact, it would be scandalous if he stood for parliament in the next general elections, let alone offer himself as a candidate for the premiership. (Ditto Nayla Tueni and the rest of the absentee MPs who, by their negligence, have done their best to snuff out the flame that was March 14 and insult the intelligence of the voters who sent them to Najmeh Square).

For it is not enough to simply oppose March 8’s fiendish agenda and make all the right noises about democracy, independence, sovereignty and the sanctity of the state. March 14 members must also take seriously their roles as public servants. The recent deterioration of infrastructure and the apparent collapse of law and order during August have woken up the public to the fact that if they want a functioning, safe, peaceful and prosperous country, and if they want laws enacted, it will not happen if the people they elect to achieve these ends are nowhere to be seen.

Which brings us back to the issue of Miqati and his suitability for the premiership. When he accepted to lead the Hezbollah-dominated government in the spring of 2011, many saw him as an opportunist who would trade what was left of Lebanon’s integrity for a place in the history books.

In reality and with hindsight, he has not done a terrible job. He has advanced the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (despite the Syrian dream of killing the process altogether) and spoken out against Syrian violations of Lebanese territorial integrity.Given the fact that he has had to work with a cabinet of which Hezbollah and its obstructionist allies in the FPM are a part, he has made a decent fist of holding things together.

Hollande and the rest of the international community are right to condemn the current government, which has set new standards in uselessness, but we should avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater. With the exception of former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, Miqati is arguably the best candidate we have to lead this country in troubled times.In the meantime, the Lebanese must fight to wrestle their destiny from the hands of those who see Lebanon as a strategic asset instead of a sovereign nation, and all our MPs, without exception, should show up for work.

Saad Hariri, it seems, cannot take criticism. Especially when it’s coupled with praise to his political adversary, which is beyond disgraceful. It seems that Saad Hariri is so worried about his political tenure, all the way from his Parisian lala land (be careful of the cold dear MP, I heard it’s quite chilly this time of year) that he pulled his strings all the way to Lebanon in order to pull the article off a website in which he has influence.

The fact that Saad Hariri cannot take criticism is beyond worrying. It’s also very childish. It’s akin to one of those impertinent children who run to their mothers whenever those “bad kids” on the playground don’t let them play. And this type of behavior is certainly not acceptable from the proclaimed political leader of one of Lebanon’s main parties.

The sad thing though is that this doesn’t only apply to Saad Hariri. Each and every Lebanese politician is off limits by some platform or the other – and what remains, at the end of the day, is an electorate who’s limited by the narrow political opinion it gets from websites that are censored by the politicians it thinks are the best of the best.

And they all run to their mothers crying. They seem to be missing one key element though: good luck silencing the internet.

Update:

The article is back up (here) with the following disclaimer:

Disclaimer: NOW Lebanon has intentionally removed this article from the site. It was not removed because of censorship, but rather because of the lack of proper arguments. We would like to repeat, again, that NOW is not owned, in whole or in part, by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, nor any other political party or figure.

Yeah, right. Such “justifications” are an insult to Now Lebanon’s reader’s intelligence.

Censorship in Lebanon: Not Exemplary in the Middle East?

The Samir Kassir Foundation recently shared this study that they conducted regarding various forms of censorship in the region. It’s an  interesting read. You can get the PDF here.

What’s interesting to note about the study is that cases of censorship in Lebanon are not among the region’s best. But fear not, it’s not the state that’s actually doing all the censorship.

In Lebanon, two phenomena raised concerns among defenders of liberty. First, the physical assaults on journalists by non-state actors, whether members of political parties, demonstrators, or a new category of activists commonly called “the inhabitants” (Al-Ahali) of some delicate regions. All sides of the Lebanese political spectrum were responsible for such acts.

In fact, in the facts & figures part of the study, a graph showing attacks on journalists in each country of the study had the following results:

The low number in Syria is not to be interpreted positively, as the study conductors noted. The attacks, when they’ve taken place, were brutal, as others graphs of the study show: Syria has the highest rate of violence against intellectuals and journalists.

What’s interesting about the results, however, is that 51 out of 55 attacks on journalists in Lebanon weren’t carried out by State authorities, but by non-state entities. Examples given are: Hariri supporters attacking journalists on the “Sunni Day of Anger” when Hariri’s government was toppled, as well as Hezbollah forces attacking journalists investigating their transgressions in Lassa and other villages in South Lebanon.

Another interesting fact to note is that the sector most affected by censorship in Lebanon was cinema with more than 10 movies being banned from being screened in Lebanon. Officials justified the decisions as a necessary precaution to preserve Lebanon’s relation with Syria and Iran and our civil peace. I think they were referring to the abysmal Beirut Hotel in one of those points.

For the non-state bans in Lebanon, one is regarding the LMFAO concert ban which happened due to some groups protesting the band’s anti-Christian feel in their song’s video. MEA has banned the newspaper Al Akhbar from being distributed on its flights. And last but not least, the infamous incident to hide Steven Spielberg’s name off the “Tintin” movie poster.

All in all, while Syria takes the cake when it comes to fighting liberties, the situation in Lebanon is not exactly peachy according to this study. Honestly, I didn’t think we had this bad compared to neighboring countries, which leads me to my conclusion.

What I think is a grave flaw in the conduction of this study is that such events in neighboring countries do not make headline news as they do over here, making our numbers seem inflated compared to them. Most of the transgressions that happen in them might be hidden or kept under the radar, making the situation seem much better than it is.

Either way, I’d take the results of this study with a grain of salt. While it is always an interesting read, I don’t think it’s correct nor is it a representative comparison between the countries of the region. Perhaps a look at the numbers of countries known for championing freedom is a clearer comparison. At least you’d know that being skeptical regarding their numbers is unfounded.