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?