Pro-Syrian government closed channel in 2002

The rumors have been confirmed: Lebanon’s Murr TV — known locally as MTV — will be on air again from March 31, more than six years after it was forced to close down Sept. 4, 2002.

The government banned the channel for criticizing the pro-Syrian government of Lebanon’s then-President Emile Lahoud.

Channel has posted the following announcement on its otherwise dormant website: “The voice of the ‘silent majority’ is to return to screens across Lebanon and the world, March 31, 2009.”

Various media quoted MTV chairman and general manager Michel Gabriel Murr as saying that the station is reopening “following the attempt to ‘assassinate’ it.””It will be a voice to serve freedom, and air the voice of the silent majority of all sects, regions and parties,” he said. “We will not be for (any political group), and we will be neutral and realistic about all topics, from traffic lights to defence strategy.”     The channel is reopening just months ahead of June legislative elections in Lebanon.

“There is no outside funding for the station from any movement or government; MTV is an independent station and equally independent of everyone,” said Murr.

MTV closed in September 2002 after prosecutors found it guilty of violating electoral law during a fiercely contested by-election that came to be seen as a fight between the government and anti-Syrian opposition.

It was accused of “disturbing Lebanon’s ties with Syria, hurting the president’s dignity, slandering security agencies and disturbing peace in the country.” Many Lebanese believe the legal action was a result of Syrian pressure and intimidation.

The reopening is seen as a further sign of the extent that Syria’s once unquestioned authority in Lebanon has declined since its military withdrawal in April 2005 and the opposition’s sweeping victory in the June elections that year.

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