Lebanon, March 14

Exclusive: NOW Lebanon Opinion Piece Taken Down Because of Editorial Line Violation

As we noted yesterday, a NOW Lebanon editorial surprisingly critical of Saad al-Hariri (“The Baby and the Bathwater”) was taken down without a word of explanation by the editors.

After Beirut Spring and I pointed this out, the article was restored with the following disclaimer:

NOW Lebanon has intentionally removed this article from the site. It was not removed because of censorship, but rather because of the lack of proper arguments. We would like to repeat, again, that NOW is not owned, in whole or in part, by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, nor any other political party or figure.

As Mustapha at Beirut Spring conjectures, this was not a move likely to be ordered by Hariri’s office itself but rather a bad decision by some higher-ups in the organization itself. I reached out to some contacts and was able to ascertain the following, from a well-placed source:

The reporters were shocked to learn that the piece had been taken down, as they had seen it as evidence of an increasingly independent line. Several senior writers and editors (such as Matt Nash and Hanin Ghaddar) put a lot of pressure on the publication’s higher-ups to restore the piece.

Eventually it came out that the order to remove the editorial came from the owner of NOW Lebanon, Eli Khoury. He felt that since it had been written as an editorial, it should have reflected the editorial line of the publication. He further stated that had the piece been written as an op-ed by a contributor like Michael Young, it would not have been removed or edited.

I don’t want to read too much into this incident, but I find it encouraging that the matter was rectified rapidly under pressure from the reporters themselves. A free press is one of Lebanon’s few saving graces; can we protect that, at the very least? 


3 thoughts on “Exclusive: NOW Lebanon Opinion Piece Taken Down Because of Editorial Line Violation

  1. And for a free press to exist, bloggers like you and Mustapha need to keep calling attention to the errors that publications make, particularly when those errors are eminently fixable.

    Interestingly, I do sympathize with Hariri. It was more significant that the article was an editorial rather than simply a piece by Michael Young. With all due respect to Michael, the stamp of approval from an institution signifies a greater sea change in electoral politics than an opinion piece by a journalist, regardless of how prominent s/he is.

    Posted by Charles | November 7, 2012, 12:51 pm
  2. I think there’s enough polarized media in Lebanon that at any given moment, one can easily read a Hariri or Nasrallah critical article in one venue or another.

    This assumption that Free Press ought to mean that NOW ought not to have the liberty to tow this or that line, or the option to brown-nose Hariri in its editorial listing is, in my view, making a bit of a mountain out of a molehill.

    I humbly disagree with Charles on the Kudos he gave QN and Mustapha- not of course that their highlighting of the issue was not worthy. It most certainly was. I simply think that the person who ought to have been most offended by the incident ought to have been the author of the offending piece, who should have written it in his own name, and if that article didn’t make it into NOW’s publication, he could have made a kerfuffle about it then, and passed it on to the 100 other venues that would have been more than eager to publish the piece.

    Posted by Gabriel | November 7, 2012, 9:45 pm
  3. I feel this incident exemplifies the problem with the Lebanese media, as with any media system that uses unadulterated freedom of speech as a money-making commodity: if you are free to say anything, there is no way to tell if you are lying, and a lot of people bend the truth because it makes them money. If NOW Lebanon presents a negative view of one politician, then everyone not espousing that view will simply assume that they are a biased political party. If they want to be respected as a news outlet they have to try to offend as few people as possible by giving bland and unobjectionable opinions. They may decide to take certain sides to build a base, but they will not stay true to facts and rational argument if they think it will make them sound like they are pandering to a sect. Reporters, who are primarily concerned with truth as they see it, will obviously stand on the side of what the think is a good, well-supported argument. But the owner of the company isn’t going to look at it that way. He doesn’t care if the truth happens to appeal to one sect or another. He’ll suppress the truth if it seems like it is catering to a particular sect because he doesn’t make money by preaching to the choir; he makes it by seeming fair and unbiased so he can reel in a wider segment of society to consume his product.

    Posted by mhaddir | November 27, 2012, 5:21 pm

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