Sunday, March 20, 2005
From the recent issue of the best magazine there is, the Economist: "Lebanon and its media Battle of the airwaves: Mar 17th 2005 BEIRUT AND CAIRO From The Economist print editionWhy the anti-Syrian opposition is winning the war for hearts and minds. LAST week, half a million people gathered in Beirut to show support for Syria. This week, perhaps a million others shouted for the Syrians to go. Street democracy may be working, for now. Syria has abruptly stopped bluffing, pulled a good part of its army out of Lebanon, and promised to remove the rest fast. It has also scuttled chunks of the intelligence edifice that cast a long, dark shadow over its smaller neighbour. The Syrian-infiltrated Lebanese state is now desperately casting about for ways to survive the opposition wave. But headcounts in the street are not the only thing to weigh against lingering Syrian control. If the Lebanese are, by the rough tally of crowd sizes, two-to-one in favour of change, the media greatly amplify this advantage. “We have no newspapers and only two TV stations,” moans Emile Lahoud, an MP and son of Lebanon's pro-Syrian president. By contrast, Lebanon's half-dozen other channels tilt strongly or slightly to the opposition. It is not for want of trying that the pro-Syrians' voice is weak. It was at Syria's behest that licensing rules, introduced in the 1990s, reduced the number of private television and radio channels from scores to a handful. More recently, bogus lawsuits pushed by Syria's friends closed one surviving television station and nearly ruined another. This tilted the balance of air time more towards Syria—and frightened potential critics. Even so, the country's educated elite—the kind of people who work for and talk to the media—came to despise the corruption and police-state tactics that Syrian meddling has encouraged. And, to Syrian chagrin, the biggest press patron of all was Rafik Hariri, the billionaire politician whose assassination sparked the recent protests. He sponsored his own television channel and newspaper, and may have spent some $100m over the years, in gifts and share purchases, to keep dozens of favoured voices from falling silent. Some accused him of buying off critics. Whatever the case, his investment is now paying off with a vengeance. Local coverage of his funeral, of protest rallies and of opposition politicians has been relentlessly dramatic. The media-savvy opposition, advised by Beirut's top advertising firms, has been quick to grab the limelight with catchy banners, slogans and gimmicks. “They have prettier girls,” concedes a Shia village headman. For his part, Syria's president, Bashar Assad, moans that if cameras only “zoomed out”, the scale of anti-Syrian feeling would shrink to its true size. He might do well to reflect instead on his country's own state television monopoly. For hours after Mr Hariri's murder, Syrian television blithely ran cartoons, followed by a programme on the glories of Syria's archaeological ruins."
Posted by As'ad AbuKhalil at 12:36 PM