For quite some time, the Lebanese journalistic community has engaged in an ongoing debate concerning the future of their print media. This occurs at a time already impacted by previous closings of many literary supplements as well as political and cultural magazines, a time when many of the surviving newspapers must lay off journalists, severely reduce their daily pages, or finally close their doors, as in the case of the recent shuttering of a 43-year old daily. To a large extent, most of the Lebanese print media problems remain global, but nevertheless, indigenous or “homegrown” issues do exist.
While experts widely recognize that the introduction of new technologies and social media have impacted conventional media worldwide, Lebanon’s print media, and even its broadcast media, also face severe non-technological challenges, some rooted in the diminishment of the Arab funding resources which used to sustain so many of them.
A confessional state since its inception, Lebanon’s sectarian politics have intensified sharply, bringing an end to a period of some civility where the pages of print media acted as battlefields between ideas. As semi-secular political parties and unions disappear along with many cultural magazines and newspapers, the increasingly acrimonious sectarian divisions have eliminated any need for real discourse on controversial debate issues in favor of diatribe, replacing nuance with simplistic black and white explanations.
The external politics which have bankrolled Lebanon’s publishing industry for decades now represent the most important factors in the decline of the Lebanese press. Despite the downward spiral of their plummeting economies, which has caused the Gulf States to sever their subsidies to the Lebanese Press, those states have still developed a recognizable worldwide media of their own. This has left Lebanese journalism to gradually devolve, losing its aura of professionalism, appeal, and stature, making it less competitive, more parochial, and increasingly irrelevant beyond Lebanon’s borders.
Currently, the decline of the Lebanese press has had little impact upon its political role in Lebanese and Arab politics. Instead, it has inflicted great economic hardship and suffering upon a relatively small but significant sector of the population, the journalists and their families. Here, the journalistic community bears some responsibility because of its weak unionization, due to close ties to publishers, made possible by nepotism and sectarianism. Lack of viable unions has prevented journalists from asserting their independence from management, resulting in an inability to force owners to honor their commitments such as redressing crippling pay cuts, refraining from demanding early retirements, complying with legally required severance payments, and paying all legally due and unpaid salaries for some employees.
Meanwhile, the dependency of Lebanese print media on foreign Arab money has had devastating consequences, leaving it unable to meet challenges independently, and causing its failure to implement sensible solutions for its technological and economic difficulties. Newspapers which started publishing or expanding their businesses by using sizable foreign capital rather than responding to indigenous market needs would rather fold their publications than fall back on their own wealth, as many recent media reports indicate.
A longer version of this essay is scheduled to appear in Al Jadid, Vol. 21, no. 72 (2017)
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