News Media Ethics in Lebanon: How Much Blood Is Too Much?

Article Summary
Fatima Abdallah addresses the journalism ethics debate in Lebanon by interviewing several news station heads about their discretion in publishing graphic images. Some say that these images are useful in stirring public opinion, while others place public sentiment above all else.

The media “ethics” controversy is nothing new. It is tackled in all lectures and taught each semester. Recent security events in Lebanon and the region have created chilling scenes, causing the media to compete over how well they can etch painful memories into the minds of people who would rather take the situation at face value, away from all the criticism, analysis and explanation.

There are two viewpoints on the matter: According to the first, pictures of bodies dumped on the road must be published in order to elicit public opinion and get a reaction. According to the second, the sanctity of the dead should not be violated by any means. Therefore, such pictures should not be disseminated out of respect for the privacy and feelings of the deceased's loved ones. Those who adopt this viewpoint believe, just like the civilized states, that showing a child's torn doll or a woman's broken glasses can have the same impact. So what does the media think about this?

According to Maryam al-Bassam, the director of news and political programs at Al Jadid news channel, each picture has a context. She distinguishes between broadcasting normal, uncontroversial pictures, which she says "involves no audacity," and the broadcasting of sensitive images. She criticizes those who hide behind "Israeli-American sensitivities and avoid taking any damning photos, since these countries export their weapons and violence to our people."

Bassam says that as long as events are not broadcast live, the channel edits and controls images out of respect and professional ethics. "As for the photos of the Israeli massacres, we deliberately show them no matter how cruel and graphic they are, so that the whole world can see Israel's crimes and immorality," she added.

Jean Feghali, news director at LBCI, shares Bassam's opinion. He believes that controlling pictures is possible, except during live events. For him, the issue is not about whether the pictures are published, since the events still took place and blocking images would not minimize their brutality. He believes that it is no longer about television anyway, because online media — especially YouTube — have taken over. Therefore, "if images are blocked on LBCI, then they will inevitably be displayed elsewhere."

When asked about the channel’s position on displaying images that may have a negative effect on viewers, he replied: "We support displaying them because they could generate the necessary shock. Out of respect for people who may be hurt by the images, we try to mitigate the harshness of the pictures by editing them when possible. Before broadcasting reports, we do mention it if there will be some harmful scenes."

Imad Assi, news director at Future TV, says that television is not only about sound. It’s about both sound and pictures.

In his opinion, the media is often obliged to display pictures it knows, in advance, will hurt viewers' feelings, yet it chooses to publish them anyway "to illustrate the terrible crimes committed by some regimes." Assi affirms that news anchors inform viewers about the sensitivity of some images, letting them choose whether to watch them or to refrain from doing so. "As for security or personal crimes, or traffic accidents, we try to avoid them as much as possible, except when these events require voice and pictures," he added.

Ghayas Yazbeck, director of news and political programs at MTV, meets with representatives from this section on a monthly basis to evaluate its compliance with the journalistic code of conduct. He emphasizes the need to respect viewers' feelings, whether it is through the content of the reports or the images that are published. Sometimes the channel has no choice but to prove a certain event through images, "though we may hide the face to avoid affecting viewers, whether the story is about a car accident, an aviation accident, an individual fight or a massacre."

Tony Shamieh, news director at OTV, says that the station was blamed for not covering certain events before others. He says this is due to the fact that "the channel evaluates its images before deciding to broadcast them." His instructions are clear: "We avoid any image that may hurt someone or raise hatred or fear, in accordance with professional standards, even if this was at the expense of a breaking story. Committing to these standards promotes the channel’s credibility amid a vast amount of gruesome images for whose exclusivity others keep competing."

Found in: maryam al-bassam
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