BEIRUT — The Lebanese Army’s defeat of Islamic militants last week became an instant cause for celebration across much of the country, but, on local television, the bitter war between broadcasters has only intensified.
Moments after victory was declared, Lebanon’s six TV channels rushed to frame the outcome of the three-month old battle at the Nahr El Bared refugee camp in terms favorable to their respective political backers.
On one end of the spectrum is the staunchly pro-government Future Television, owned by Saad Hariri, majority leader in parliament and a close ally to the United States.
On the other end is Al Manar, seen as the mouthpiece for Hezbollah, which has withdrawn from Lebanese government, citing U.S. meddling in the region.
Analysts appearing on Al Manar often allege that the militants, who were Sunnis, may have actually been funded by the Hariri, who is also a Sunni, as part of a Western-inspired plot to create a bulwark against Shiite Hezbollah.
Pro-government figures, on the other hand, point a figure toward Hezbollah’s ally, Syria, as being behind the camp violence.
Thus, while Future Television began its post Bared coverage by hosting MP’s loyal to Hariri congratulating the army on its successful fight, Al Manar ran interviews with analysts who continuously questioned the funding source of the militants known as Fatah Islam.
As Hariri’s channel celebrated, Al Manar was sober, running a string of callers who warned that the battle might not yet be over.
The other four Lebanese TV channels fall somewhere in between, but rarely stray far from siding with one or the other most of the time. When Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora addressed the nation in a live speech during the evening of celebrations, the speech was boycotted by opposition-loyal channels.
The Siniora speech was seen as a breaking story by news outlets across the world, running live on CNN Intl., as well as the Arab world’s two leading news networks, Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya.
But Al Manar and two other opposition-backed local channels, OTV and NBN, continued with regular programming throughout the speech.On the flip side, the Sinoira speech was predictably carried on Hariri-owned Future TV as well as LBC or the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp., which is reportedly connected to prominent Christian politician Samir Geagea, a Hariri ally.
Meanwhile, a sixth Lebanese station, New TV, also carried the prime minister’s speech although it is owned by local businessman Tahseen Khayat, an ardent Hariri critic. In fact, following the speech, New TV aired a report on government waste over footage that showed Siniora laughing in slow motion against loud and sinister music.
But one form of propaganda that most Lebanese channels could agree on, both during and after the Nahr el Bared fighting, were music videos glorifying the army, which is hailed as the only undivided institution left in the country.
Despite widespread disagreement over the identity of whom they were fighting, the military has become extremely popular over recent months, and as a result, patriotic pro-army clips became ubiquitous across the airwaves.
But Future Television seems to have an edge on this front, producing first-class cinematic fare in the place of the cheesy low-budget clips played on most other channels.
Interestingly, Al Manar seems to part with the rest of the pack here. Clips glorifying Hezbollah and Palestinian resistance to Israel seem to be far more prevalent than anything related to the Lebanese army. The phrase “victory” meanwhile, is reserved more often for events happening in the south, along the Israeli border, rather than the battles taking place up north.