How Can I Get Credible News in Lebanon?

Q: How do you know a person’s political/sectarian/whatever affiliation?

A: Just look at the news they read/watch/get exposed to.

With near 12 hour shifts at the hospital, I’m having less and less time to be exposed to all different news sources in order to get the gist of what’s happening in this country. For a while, this didn’t bother me. I figured the less I know about current politics, the better. My parents were also happy I wasn’t going to get myself in trouble.

The sentiment didn’t last long. You just can’t logically remain disconnected from what’s happening here. Many Lebanese people are in the same boat: they don’t have time to read different sources and settle for one.

It was either I settle for the rhetoric that I enjoyed the most and made me sleep better at night, like a lot of people out there, or I simply don’t. I chose the latter. So I subscribed to a bunch of news services that sent me daily bulletins. Some send these bulletins several times per day as an agglomeration of articles from different sources. It eventually became a habit of mine to click on the flashy headlines, read the first few sentences and try to guess the source. I have an accuracy rate north of 95%. Move over Layla Abdul Latif. Is that how it’s supposed to be?

The other day, a friend of mine sent me something he figured I should write about: a former MP cutting down parts of the Cedar forest for his son’s wedding. I scanned through the article and then checked the source. It was Al-Akhbar, a newspaper that had that very same day turned a “scoop” they got of Samir and Sethrida Geagea allegedly divorcing into one of the worst articles I have ever read.  I immediately dismissed the news. I wasn’t going to touch that with a ten foot pole. The following day, the news turned out to be true because it was reported with pictures by several other sources.

Our news services rehash news in different ways when it’s a slow day and they’re bored. On August 4th, MTV reported on a “quarrel” in Tripoli during a public iftar at Al-Nour roundabout using the same material they used in a report from March 12th of that same year.

When it comes to  Tripoli, our news reporting was as horrible as it goes as well. When the fights were new, they were all over them. Then they got bored – and they figured everyone else should be bored as well. So they stopped reporting. Despite nights during which 1000s of mortar shells were dropped on the city, our media remained silent.  My friends had thought the worst thing happening in the country at that time was the electoral law debate. And, in the off-chance that they actually report something, they make it sound like the city is the Lebanese brand of Kandahar, in its own mood of civil war.

On April 1st, MTV ran with some news that was their take on April Fools. Other news services in the country didn’t bother double-checking and simply jumped on the story. As their attempt to save face later on, they said they contacted several entities in order to double check and whatnot. Odds are they didn’t. But who cares? There’s no accountability when it comes to our news anyway.

How does MTV report oil prices going up? “Gebran Bassil has raised oil prices.” How do they report them going down? “Oil prices have gone down.”

How does OTV report the same thing? “Oil prices have gone up; Gebran Bassil has brought oil prices down.”

How does Future TV refer the Syrian regime? “Shabbi7at el Assad.

How does Al-Manar address the Free Syrian Army? They are eaters of hearts, brains and other body parts.

How does a newspaper like Al-Diyar still exist? I don’t know.

How can I get the news without doubting every single sentence that I read? How can I get the non-editorialized and sensationalized version of all the pieces that should inform me about what’s happening in this country? How can I get news intros that are not written in an Arabic language whose words hold twenty five different meanings in each letter?

I can’t.

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The Geitawi Pedophile “Monster”

It is widely believed that incidents of child molestation are not really present in Lebanon. The reality, though, is that most of them go hidden for years. It might be because as a society, we forcefully turn a blind eye to such elements that may be very flagrant in front of us.

The last time child molestation made headlines was with an instructor at renowned private school. The issue has now made headlines again with a 28 year old man who has been doing so for 14 years in Geitawi, a part of Achrafieh.

There is a sense of tragedy in thinking of the lives of all the children this man has maimed and ruined. The innocence he has taken from them will have a lasting, albeit repairable, effect on their lives.
And it’s precisely that: these children can easily be helped.
The man in question has triggered countless red flags along the 14 years he spent doing his deed. And yet, no one ever thought of intervening apparently.

1) The man in question was discharged from the military back in 2007 for violent sexual conduct. That would make him 22 year old at the time. Didn’t it cross anyone’s mind to refer him to some psychological help? Doesn’t our army have anyone to council them for any PTSD, which has probably become recurrent lately?

2) The man in question was also reported to be the victim of sexual abuse himself when he was a child. I highly doubt this is new information. It never crossed anyone’s mind that such a childhood trauma would have an ever lasting impact on a person’s being?

3) The man has also been “active” for 14 years. That would make him 14 at the time things had started. I find it extremely hard to assume that there was absolutely nothing that ticked off anyone to any odd behavior he might have had back then.

There is an equally tragic aspect of this story, however, in the cluelessness and utter unprofessionalism with which Lebanese media is reporting on the issue. Of course, “monster” brings much more attention than trying to actually address the issue. Instead, we are met with attention-grabbing headlines and empty content: from baseless psychoanalytical theories to give some science cred to a journalist’s piece down to publishing pictures of the man, along with his name.

I’m not justifying what the man did as anything remotely acceptable. It’s not. It’s sick and revolting.

But what’s also not acceptable is for such incidences not to serve as a way to educate parents on signs that something wrong might be happening with their children in order to intervene before it’s too late.
Instead, we are met with gossip-like handling of the issues simply because it is believed this is what people want.

Pedophilia falls under a subset of sexual disorders called paraphilia which are related to culturally unacceptable sexual activities which cause the individual severe distress. This may not apply to this Achrafieh “monster” if his actions didn’t cause him distress. But I’m also tempted to believe that the “monster” he is today is the byproduct of his experiences as a child, which nobody even cared about. And I’m also willing to bet that many of us would have felt sorry for that child at some point in his life before the lack of help turned him into the “monster” grabbing headlines he is today.