Justice for Yves

Late on his 27th birthday, Yves Nawfal was fatally shot when trying to escape the threats of Charbel Khalil after they were both involved in a bar fight. He and some close friends had made a trip to Faraya to celebrate at a pub. Nawfal was described by peers as popular and well-liked, and on that evening, he was an average young man trying to enjoy turning another year older. That same evening, an individual by the name of Charbel Khalil was at the same pub. Khalil, contrarily, is regarded by locals not as popular but as notorious for causing trouble, having been accused on releasing fire before. The night started innocently enough but was destined to end horribly.

A bar fight erupted over a comment made to a girl, a friend of Nawfal. Fists were swung and a loose one made contact with Khalil, who, according to the owner of the pub and sourced by the Daily Star, Charbel Sabbagh, proceeded to guard the door of the pub and proclaimed that no one was to leave.  “Nawfal’s lead attacker, Khalil, became aggravated after he was hit with a loose jab. Khalil then ordered his friends not to let Nawfal get to Beirut alive.”

Nawfal and his friend Saba Nader were taken out the back door by Sabbagh and proceeded to drive away.  Khalil, however, was waiting for them on the side of the road, prepared to keep his word and not let Nawfal get home alive.  As Nawfal and Nader passed in their subaru, Khalil and another, Juliano Saadeh, released fire.  At 2:13 AM, Yves Nawfal was shot four times. Closer to 5 AM, Nawfal and Nader, who had suffered a mild should injury from a bullet graze, arrived at the Hotel Dieu Hospital in Beirut.

The following morning, Nawfal was announced dead, and the quest to find and persecute those guilty of the heinous crime commenced.  At this time, officials were unaware of the identity of the perpetrators and issued 12 warrants for arrest, according to The Daily Star.  Both a video and the claims of eyewitnesses lead them to Khalil and Saadeh.

People are murdered all the time.  It is something that the general population has become desensitized to, a horrid act of hatred that has become mundane.  The death of an innocent man, however, is anything but.  Yves Nawfal’s unexpected death catalyzed an influx of thought and a deep mistrust in those that are supposed to protect their citizens.  On Gino’s Blog, he wrote “We don’t feel safe anymore. We often live in a bubble in our clubs and areas we frequent, thinking we are safe from the violence that plagues other parts of Lebanon. We often are proud of ourselves for having a relatively low crime rate when it comes to homicides and rapes (given that most crimes are terrorist or sectarian conflicts), but that’s changing.”

justice-for-yve

Justice for Yves

Investigative Journalism Gone Awry

Most investigative news stories, especially those in countries foreign to the journalist carrying out the investigation, require the assistance of the locals. The need translators, drivers, a source of housing.  Perhaps most importantly is the access to the perspectives of a native, an avenue by which to learn of gossip and talk that only those who are native to an area are privy to. Rami Asyha is a Lebanese-Palestinian journalist who has worked as a correspondent for Time Magazine and other publications.  In mid-2014, he began a piece of investigative journalism regarding arms trafficking in and around Beirut.

According to Time, while on an excursion south of the capital, he was stopped at gunpoint by Hezbollah, an Islamic militant group.  Him and the two men he was traveling with were handcuffed, blindfolded, and taken to a facility to be beaten and interrogated.  He was charged with the crimes that he was investigating but not actually perpetuating.  A week under the authority of Hezbollah preceded another two weeks of interrogations and horrid beatings at the hands of the Lebanese police forces.  In his correspondence with Reporters Without Borders, Aysha stated, “They asked if I was right- or left-handed. Then they struck me so hard on my left-hand index finger that it remains broken. I was sure they were going to kill me.”

This piece of investigative journalism was not afforded the opportunity to manifest into even the semblance of a story.  Despite the alleged freedoms of journalists in Lebanon, Aysha suffered both physical and psychological trauma in attempting to report on this. In the words of Jim Boumelha, the president of the International Federation of Journalists, “Aysha was carrying a journalistic investigation into arms trafficking, he was not involved in the illicit practice. If the freedom of press in Lebanon is to be maintained, then Lebanese authorities must let Aysha enter the country as a free man, without fear of arrest.”  If the freedom of press is to be upheld, Lebanon cannot allow its authorities to instill fear into those merely seeking the truth.

Investigative Journalism Gone Awry

Why Lebanon

I chose Lebanon as the focus of my country diary for a multitude of reasons, the first being that my father was born and raised there and as a result, I have frequented the country since childhood.  My views about the politics, safety (or lack thereof), the economy and the government are all highly biased; I intend for this blog to serve not only as a suitable requirement for the class, but also as a further development of my personal understanding and beliefs regarding Lebanon.  Beyond the personal reasons, however, lies the paradox of the press of Lebanon.  Perhaps one of the freest presses of the countries of the Middle East, the primary media outlets each suffer from a severe bias relative to the political views of those funding each specific medium.  Below is an excerpt from the annual Freedom House report on Lebanon.
All of the media is biased towards political parties, who, through their own channels, can report news the way that they want their audience to hear it.  The result is a polarized population ignorant to the full story.  My father, for example, watches Christian TV, listens to Christian radio and pursues Christian newspapers, which effectively strengthen his bias and maintain his ignorance to countering perspectives.  I hope that this blog will allow me to escape the bias that I and most Lebanese citizens have been exposed to.
Further, although the citizens are afforded freedom of press by virtue of their constitution, various statutes prohibit journalists from speaking poorly of their leaders. In March and November of 2013, violence against journalists erupted.  In early 2014, a Lebanese man was jailed for negatively tweeting about President Michel Suleiman.  And within the last year, in part as a result of the influx of refugees escaping the neighboring country of Syria, there has been a decrease in freedom of the press and an increase in threats and violence against journalists.  The eighteen different religions, the instability of the neighboring countries, and the treacherous past of the country all lend to a region in which journalism is free but simultaneously obstructed.
Why Lebanon

Hidden Pressures on Women in The Media

A recent study by the Women’s Media Center found that 63.4% of on camera appearances in media outlets in 2013 were men. Another study conducted by the International Women’s Media Foundation concluded that nearly two-thirds of female journalists had been assaulted, threatened, or intimated while working. And multiple organizations have recognized and reported on an overall trend toward men dominating the media, both in terms of their constant presence and in the way that they treat women in equal positions.

The bias is not limited to a bubble of journalists acting poorly to one another, but it enters the realm of others acting disrespectfully toward women in the media. For example, in an interview with Savannah Gunthrie, Senator Rand Paul chastised her: “Why don’t we let me explain instead of talking over me, O.K.?”

Or, when he put his finger to his lips in an interview with Kelly Evans from CNBC and told her, “Let me finish. Hey, Kelly, shhh. Calm down a bit here, Kelly. Let me answer the question.” The sexism toward women in the media that is growing to be increasingly prevalent. Hilary Clinton summed up these biases in an interview:

When you’re in the spotlight as a woman, you know you’re being judged constantly. It is just never ending. You get a little worried about, OK, people over on this side are loving what I’m wearing, looking like, saying.

Women in the media are also subjected to harassment on social media as well, as observed by reporter Jeff Snoderman. Laurie Penny, a female columnist, writes of the normalcy of harassment:

You come to expect it, as a woman writer, particularly if you’re political. You come to expect the vitriol, the insults, the death threats.…Most mornings, when I go to check my email, Twitter and Facebook accounts, I have to sift through threats of violence, public speculations about my sexual preference and the odour and capacity of my genitals, and attempts to write off challenging ideas with the declaration that, since I and my friends are so very unattractive, anything we have to say must be irrelevant.

This issue is not one that is restricted to the borders of the United States, it spans the entire realm of women in the media all around the world.

Hidden Pressures on Women in The Media

The (Non-Existent) Use of Sources In Lebanese Media

The media in Lebanon is one of the freest in the Middle East, a freedom largely attributed to the fact that media outlets, for many years, have been utilized by political figures or others in positions of power. This financial backing from persons with great amounts of influence generally stipulates that anything can be reported, and no one will get into trouble because there is a general disregard for the moral obligations of reporters or journalists. As such, an the media in Lebanon is one of an open forum.

The openness of the Lebanese media has multiple dangers, one being that when reporters already know what they are going to say, or who they must support, or the political beliefs that they have to preach, there is a decrease in the need to access outside sources to complete stories. Throughout the majority of the Lebanese news stories that I have read, sources have been sparse, or a news outlet would source someone that also worked there. In a network report done by Internews in April of 2009, they noted that “many [Lebanese] media institutions suffer from a lack of human sources.”

Instead of turning to individuals for sources to crack a story or be the first to investigate something with the help of an inside source, outlets tend to write highly biased and exaggerated stories that may be based in truth but spun to something far from the truth. As said in a piece on the Lebanese media landscape by Sarah El-Richani:

The Lebanese media largely reflects the social and political structures in which it operates. In short, the Lebanese political system is defined by weak state structures, deeply rooted confessionals and patronage networks that are all reinforced by a network of political and religious elites using a perverted prison of consociational democracy.

Because of these very prevalent media biases that various outlets act on, the most outrageous things that are reported are not necessarily corruption in the government. Instead, the most outrageous things in the media are the extreme exaggeration of anything and everything, including religious and political sects. Outlets will frame political leaders or figures that oppose their benefactors in very horrible lights and overstate the accomplishments of the figures that fund their outlet.

Instead of looking to anonymous sources to aid in cracking stories and doing real reporting, those involved in the Lebanese media busy themselves with creating highly biased and at times outrageous stories in order to support their beliefs and the beliefs of their viewers or readers.

The (Non-Existent) Use of Sources In Lebanese Media

Buzzfeed on Lebanon

So often the issue with international or foreign reporting is that it is done by foreign journalist. News is broadcasted to the world about Lebanon, or Syria, or Israel, by someone who is not Lebanese or Syrian or Israeli. Instead it is Americans or the English or others that hail from developed world countries reporting on underdeveloped or developing countries, portraying to their audiences an image of a foreign world through a blurred lens.
Very often, this proves to be an issue with reports regarding Lebanon. Save for personal bloggers, independent journalists, or news outlets based in Lebanon, much of what is broadcasted about the country is done so by a non-native. The story is taken out of the hands of Lebanese citizens and put under the discretion of someone who is foreign to the country and does not understand the nuances of life in a particular country.
News of Lebanon conjures images of wars, intra-state ones and ones with Israel. It generally reminds people of car bombings, a third world third world country, a distraught citizenship. Specific media outlets, however, as a result of unconventional reporting styles or broadcasting methods, cast Lebanon in a different light. The Buzzfeed article, 41 Powerful Messages From A Selfie Protest In Lebanon, aims to put the power to tell a story back into the hands of the Lebanese.
On December 27th, 2013, 9 people were murdered by a car bombing in Beirut. One of the victims was 16-year-old Mohammad Charr. A before and after picture of the young teen, pictured below in red, became widely circulated following the bombing.
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Charr’s death catalyzed a selfie protest around the country, captioned with “#NotAMartyr.” The article features 41 of these photos, each with the same caption but varying reasons among the individuals for speaking out. As opposed to traditional media coverage, no assumptions are made regarding how individuals felt. Other outlets that reported on the incident utilized sweeping generalizations, as may be necessary in reporting certain events. CNN’s Mohammed Jamjoom wrote, “And for many younger Lebanese, so sick of recent violence and rising sectarianism throughout the country, that was just too much.”
But the Buzzfeed article, instead of referencing the wisdom of a bystander, referenced the written words of those personally affected by Charr’s death. Among the selfie’s posted were messages such as:
“I never want to hear ‘this is Lebanon’ used as an excuse.”
“God, do something. I’m giving up on you.”
“For a country without censorship. For a country that doesn’t bury teenagers. For a country that doesn’t exile talent.”
Personally, the Buzzfeed article elicited a much stronger response than did the CNN article, particularly because it was written by those who knew what it was to lose someone to a car bomb. Buzzfeed outsourced their article to the words of average individuals that have a personal investment in Charr’s death instead of a journalist in Lebanon on an assignment. Their method seemed to be very effective.
Buzzfeed on Lebanon

Social Media & The News

Look down any street, in any classroom, Starbucks line, lunch room, and you are guaranteed to find people looking down at a 4.6 ounce piece of technology that connects them to the rest of the world. Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram can all be accessed from a cell phone. And they can all be used to share news with the world, whether it is a personal announcement or something global.

Increasingly, social media is being used to broadcast world news, give a play by play of live events. Bombings, protests, and other events are being shared in real time by reporters on the ground. In Lebanon, social media is being utilized for these reasons and even more. In fact, Journalists in Lebanon have been trained to utilize media to identify corruption within their society.

According to a Huffington Post article by Magda Abu-Fadil, “social media’s vital role in collecting, curating and disseminating news about corruption was an important element of the training [in identifying corruption].” The use of social media for the greater good addresses a larger theme within the scope of social media reporting. With access to information about any thinkable topic, particularly ones related to human rights or humanitarianism, people are now more informed than they ever were before about the plight of others. The suffering of fellow citizens, people across the pond, those subject to natural disasters is broadcasted for the whole world to see on the news, “like” on Facebook, or retweet on Twitter.

Increases in awareness have no doubt been beneficial towards humanitarian efforts as a whole. The more people that are aware of what is happening, the more volunteers you can rally and the more funds you can raise. Studies show, however, that the use of social media to promote humanitarian work and share news actually can decrease involvement. For example, when someone retweets, he may actually be working against himself. People tend to feel a symbolic self-completion by “raising awareness” but are subsequently less likely to volunteer.

And as Susan Sontag wrote, “Making suffering loom larger…invites them to feel that the sufferings and misfortunes are too vast, too irrevocable, too epic to be much changed by any local, political intervention.” Social media may not be as helpful as we think.

Social Media & The News

Freedom of American Journalists: On A Constant Decline?

Media independence in the United States is considered to have some of the strongest legal protection in the world. No overarching self-regulatory bodies exist, official regulation is minimal, and 39 states have shield laws, albeit to varying degrees, to protect their journalists and the like from revealing their sources. Additionally, the Obama Administration has time and time again preached their intention to remain as transparent as possible, broadly employing FOIA and making a lot of information easily accessible to the general public.
Despite these protections, however, the United States has fallen on the World Press Freedom Index, dropping from 33 to 46 in 2014, and down another three places to 49 this year. Why the constant decrease? At the behest of President Obama, journalists have been likened to spies and no less than eight whistleblowers have been charged and called to court under the Espionage Act.
The most famous of these eight include Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning, Barrett Brown, and James Risen. Manning, charged with providing WikiLeaks with thousands of classified documents, was sentenced to 35 years in military prison. Brown was called to court for linking to a page that held classified information that had been wrongfully disclosed to the public, although the information had been shared by another individual and not Brown himself. And Risen, the most recent of the three, was in danger of being charged with contempt for vehemently refusing to testify against Jeffery Sterling, an alleged source of his book and a former CIA agent.
Brown, like Manning, was indicted. But according to a report by Reporters Without Borders, on January 12th the court announced that Risen would not have to testify against Sterling. Despite the positive outcome of a case that has been in the works for now seven years, the simple and disturbing fact of the matter is that journalists are now condemned for doing their jobs. Their work is made criminal, the obligation to make information known to their readers is inhibited by a fear of prosecution, among both sources and reporters.
And it is the insidious continuation of these trials that must be feared; it is the complete disregard for the First Amendment rights of all citizens, obscuring of the right of all journalists to report the truth, that has resulted in first the 14 point- then the 3 point-drop in America’s position on the Freedom Index.
According to an article by Human Rights Watch, “This situation has a direct effect on the public’s ability to obtain important information about government activities, and on the ability of the media to serve as a check on government, Human Rights Watch and the ACLU found.”
In a country that preaches freedom of speech, under an administration that claims maximum transparency, sources are becoming harder to come by and journalists are having to alter their practices and take extreme measures to protect those that help them share the truth. Although journalists still remain relatively free to report as they wish, acts of surveillance prove to be a constant threat against the rights of freedom.
Freedom of American Journalists: On A Constant Decline?

WIKILEAKS

The leak of hundreds of thousands of cables, attributed to the work of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, proved problematic for many countries and revealed classified documents to their citizens. Assange’s genius, albeit dangerous, allows the average citizen access information that respective governments never intended to go beyond the eyes of a handful of individuals with high clearance.

Multiple Wikileaks regarding Lebanon shared a common theme: governmental abhorrence of the militant group Hezbollah, and support of their destruction, even when it implied employing the help of enemies. According to a Wikileak titled “Christian Political Leaders Say Sheba’a is Key,” multiple Lebanese Christian leaders stated that while publicly announcing their support for a ceasefire, they would be in favor of Israeli attacks against Hezbollah.

“While claiming to be fully supportive of Prime Minister Siniora’s call for a ceasefire, they are troubled that the current conflict might leave Hizballah in a stronger position within Lebanon than at the beginning. The Lebanese government will need to be in a position of strength to deal with Hizballah once the conflict is over, the leaders argued. To this end, they would support a continuation of the Israeli bombing campaign for a week or two if this were to diminish seriously Hizballah’s strength on the ground…

Several of the assembled leaders urged that Hizballah be given a “real pounding” by the Israelis to the point that the group would be “soft enough to listen to reason.” According to Boutros Harb, “if we are convinced that Israel can finish the job, then we can allow a few more weeks,” though the consensus seemed to rest between seven to ten days. If on the other hand Hizballah were to emerge emboldened with a perceived sense of victory, “that would be a disaster.” (x)

The Wikileak is dated to August 7, 2006. This plan also recruited the support of U.S. officials in convincing Israeli troops to withdraw from the Sheba’a farms area in order to weaken Hezbollah’s excuse to bear arms in that region.

A cable from the following day, however, stated that Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr did not believe that it would be possible for Israeli to continue to attack Hezbollah without creating conflict with and casualties of the Christians in Lebanon.

The Israelis will find it much harder to pick off individual rocket emplacements hidden in towns and villages without causing significant civilian casualties and more international uproar. Furthermore, according to Murr, the entire Lebanese populace, including the Shi’a, are tired of the conflict and want a cease-fire. This works to the advantage of the cease-fire actually holding. (x)

Many countries, including the United States and parts of the Lebanese population, regard Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Some believe that Hezbollah works alongside Israel, others believe they want to obliterate that entire country. Most, however, believe that Hezbollah is responsible for many of the monstrosities and bombings that have occurred in Lebanon; As such, the leak did not result in a fallout with the United States or a mistrust of the government by the general population.

WIKILEAKS

Citizen Journalism

Following the Arab Spring, citizen journalism in the Middle East increased exponentially. “MediaShift describes the citizen-journalism landscape as three-tiered: independent bloggers; joint initiatives from citizen journalists; and larger citizen journalism platforms” (source). One of the most prominent of the larger citizen journalism platforms in Lebanon, AltCity, developed as a an extension of a monthly, youth-oriented and youth-run newspaper Hibr, founded in 2009.

AltCity, Nabti says, is a natural evolution of Hibr, a place where local citizen journalists and foreign reporters have a place to do their work, hold workshops, share resources and enjoy a cup of coffee and snacks at the cafe. In this community space, he also envisions zero waste, and has already started working with green consulting companies.(x)

One very prominent journalist, notorious for his brutal honesty and polarizing opinions, publishes his pieces on his site, Gino’s Blog. Titled as “Everything you love and hate about Beirut,” it has proven a very popular source for updates on recent news, but also has a focus on his own opinion pieces regarding anything from the lack of appropriate censorship in the country to why he believes Lebanese Christians to be “stupid hypocrites.”

He has been featured in many renowned news outlets, such as The Daily Star, BBC Lebanon, Al Jazeera, and countless others. Although censorship in Lebanon is not as strict as that in its surrounding Arab countries, Gino has still been the victim of government censorship and a lack of free speech. But to that, he says, “We live in an information age… It’s almost futile, a futile effort to stop people from saying what they wanna say. And I think a lot of regimes are realizing that young people wanna say what they wanna say, they want their freedom of speech, and the laws need to be fair” (x).

Citizen Journalism