Wednesday, November 15, 2006

the illusion of a state and of a people

a friend of mine continues to march on the long and winding journey that ends with a doctorate in political studies. He is not Lebanese. However, his subject constitutes those of us in this world who identify ourselves as Lebanese - (ouch!). This blond, blue-eyed man wants to understand us... wants to comprehend what this notion of "Lebaneseness" means to us. I can only cheer him on.

Around a week ago, he sent me a link to a webpage on which an essay written by AUB sociology professor Nabil Dajani was published. Dajani's subject: Lebanon's television broadcasting stations. More specifically, their role in the Lebanese political process as well as their impact on Lebanese society.

The professor's conclusions were obvious. However his putting them in words, and within the template of an academic study makes them that much more profound. He argues, the role of television stations in the political process is top-down in nature: a tool of the elites. Contrast this portrayal with the role of media institutions in more civilized political systems (where, if you are not aware, the media constitutes a tool of accountability) and feel the pain!

As for the impact of television stations on Lebanese society, Dajani claims they serve to reinforce sectarian divisions. He cites the selective flow and witholding of information or disinformation based on sectarian audiences as the main reason. Ultimately, Lebanese who watch different channels see their worlds through different and, sometimes, dangerously contradictory prisms.

Dajani's conclusion:
The problematic nature of television and other mass media in Lebanon lies in a flawed visualization of the meaning of freedom. It does not lie in the issue of censorship or lack of a free media environment. This distorted visualization of feedom plays into the hands of private interests that both override and overwhelm social responsibility.
Here are some more pertinent quotes for your enjoyment.

Concerning television's penetration into Lebanese houeholds, Dajani writes,

Television dominates the flow of information in Lebanon. According to recent figures by an authoritative study, about 65 percent of Lebanese adults view two to four hours per day, and about 82 percent of the population views television on a daily basis, while 95 percent watch television, but not regularly... . In 2003, terrestrial television penetration was at approximately 99 percent of all households.

Concerning the effect of Lebanon's television stations on relationships amongst Lebanese of different sects, he noted,


Television has both helped maintain the divisions that exist within the society and contributed to the alienation of the average individual. Indeed, inasmuch as Lebanese television typically appeals to individual sects and ethnic groups within the country, it helps to sustain the condition of sectarian and ethnic division.

Concerning the public square,


citizens remain ignorant of how their political affairs are handled. Because of their ignorance, they are powerless. Consequently, we are today witnessing in Lebanon a media situation that in fact contributes to the re-feudalization of the public sphere.

Concerning freedom (in fact, his hypothesis),


The problematic nature of television and other mass media in Lebanon lies in a flawed visualization of the meaning of freedom. It does not lie in the issue of censorship or lack of a free media environment. This distorted visualization of freedom plays into the hands of private interests that both override and overwhelm social responsibility. Censorship is no longer the most useful lens through which to focus on the subject of freedom of expression. A better means of focusing on freedom of expression is the subject of human rights, particularly the right of the individual to communicate in order to improve the quality of her or his life and to practice true democracy.

2 comments:

francois said...

actually this is the main reason i m no more watching the lebanese channels nor reading the local newspapers ...

teague said...

Fascinating, insightful stuff. People do tend to overlook and oversimplify the systematic effects that the media has. One can hope (perhaps with a surplus of optimism) that blogs like this one are the leading edge of a democratization of media in Lebanon that will eventually help to blunt the centrifugal tendencies of the present system...