By Assaad Thebian
LEBANON. “We are only allowed to highlight the screams but no solution is applied,” says Mohamad Darwich (United Press and Al-Shark radio), to a group of students and journalists covering south Lebanon addressing the “lack of journalistic fundamental rights”.
The purpose of the workshop “Freedom Messengers Network” taking place in Tyr, south of Lebanon is to promote the human rights especially in the journalism field. It is being attended by twenty five students from different universities.
“We are only allowed to highlight the screams but no solution is applied,” says Mohamad Darwich (United Press and Al-Shark radio). “We cannot tackle all the political and social issues in the south.” Speaking at the Rest House Hotel in Tyre to a group of students and journalists covering south Lebanon, Darwich talks about the “lack of journalistic fundamental rights” during the period of the Israeli occupation. He also asserts that the news is generally sent to the center of the country (Beirut) where it sometimes gets distorted. Explaining the severe conditions experienced during Israeli bombings and as a result of the widespread religious and conservative parties in the region, he concludes, “We are the sons of crisis.”
This session was part of a four day workshop conducted by the ‘Freedom Messengers’ Network’ in Tyre in south Lebanon. The workshop, which was funded by the United Group-Egypt, the Center for Defending the Freedom of Journalists and Media for Training-Lebanon, targeted Lebanese University students majoring in Journalism, Cinema and Directing and English Literature and activists from Lebanese non-governmental organizations. The initiative also received support from Egypt’s Al-Ahram newspaper and the Rady School of Management in San Diego, USA.
Fadi Al Badran (Future TV and Al-Shark radio) talks about the early days of his journalistic career. He completed degrees in media studies in 1984 and political sciences in 1990. In 1985, he was arrested by the Israeli troops; he also witnessed the Israeli invasions in 1993 and 1996. Recounting stories from the July 2006 war, he reveals how he heard from a UNIFIL source that Israeli troops were being deployed in the Bayada area. When he reported the news live, he received a phone call claiming he was promoting the invasion and hence, he was accused of being an agent. This story reveals the dilemma of being a correspondent in a war zone, where you have to take into consideration political views and objectivity. “If you work for a media outlet, people consider you to hold the same political ideology [as the outlet], though you might be personally against their opinions”, Badran says, explaining that some people in the south consider him an opponent just because he works for a media outlet that does not share their political views.
Hussein Saad (As-Safir newspaper) did not face the same problem as his newspaper is considered by people in the south to follow a friendlier political line. In addition, he is head of a municipality in one of the southern villages. Saad began his journalistic career in the early 1990s with Sawt Al Shaab radio station, Kifah Arabi magazine, Al Balad newspaper and New TV. He tells the students, “Every journalist should have a cause; this cause might differ from one person to another, it might be their own quest for fame, support for a political line or their nation’s interest.”
Bahia El Ainain, a Palestinian journalist working for Al-Binaa daily newspaper, gave her perspective as a female journalist. She started working in journalism by chance; she was looking for a job and someone told her about an opportunity at a local magazine. Being a female journalist is tough, she says. “We are in an Arab society where a woman faces many obstacles. Few accept the idea of a woman succeeding. They do not believe that she can do that by herself.”
El Ainain talks about her experiences during the 1996 Israeli massacre in Qana. “I cried several times. I couldn’t be a journalist over being a mother when I saw dead young girls at Qana. I couldn’t but think of my daughter.” She also recounts an incident during the July 2006 war when she was on a roof, along with all the foreign press and their cameras, and some resistance rockets were fired from a nearby area. Bahia pushed the cameras away; she admits that her patriotism outweighs the journalist’s instincts for objectivity.
Another journalist, Haydar Hawili, used to play for the Lebanese national soccer team. Then, in 1991, Tony Khalife (a prominent Lebanese TV anchor) asked him to cover anti-government demonstrations and riots that were taking place in Tyre. Hawili says that this inspired him to turn to photography and journalism. In 1996, he took pictures of the Fijian troops, of whom 16 were killed during the Israeli attack on Qana, but he was surprised that his agency, UPI, never published them.
Hawili’s stories reveal the cooperation of the people of the south during wartime. Once, when traveling with a colleague, they were stopped by a vehicle and were obliged to hand over their spare tire. In exchange, they were handed a scrap of paper indicating where they could retrieve their tire from. Later, they had to do the same thing; their tire went flat and they left a similar note. Hawili was surprised that, the next day, they found the tire they had been promised and so they did the same for the people whose wheel they had taken.
Hawili also recounts sad stories. Once, while traveling with a Red Cross/UNIFIL convoy that had been set at 12 vehicles, one car was hit by an Israeli aircraft. They later discovered that it was the 13th car that had been hit. The car had been carrying a family of two parents and two children. They learned that the Israelis count the cars.
Bilal Kashmar (National Broadcasting Network TV) began his journalistic career in 1994. “During times of war, taking a picture of an aircraft, a tank or an explosion is a routine shot,” he says. “The challenge is to highlight the voice of the people who stay on the frontline and want to be connected with their families and cousins who left.”
Wafik Al-Howari (Shu’un Janoubieh) says that he does not belong to any Lebanese party; he only belongs to humanity and his only enemy is Israel. He tells the students about the struggles of publishing a good investigation. He explains how he wanted to do a particular investigative report but none of the Lebanese newspapers accepted to publish it. He needed funding and, in the end, ARIJ (The Network of Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalists) offered funding on the condition that a media outlet had agreed to publish it. But this never happened.
This inspiring workshop was a unique opportunity for young journalists living in south Lebanon. The participants sharpened their skills, gained local contacts and widened their knowledge, especially about human rights. It is hoped that the training sessions will result in publications by the participants, both in print and online. A website for their content is planned.