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    A Narrow World View

    Since the middle of December, hordes of protesters have taken to the streets in Tunisia, angered by the lack of employment opportunities, corruption and poor living conditions under a heavy-handed regime, among other factors. These protests – which were sparked when a 26-year-old unemployed university graduate, Muhammad Bouazizi, set himself on fire – have, as elsewhere, gone relatively unnoticed in Lebanon, a country whose press is rather inward-looking.

    “I don’t know what is happening in Tunisia,” said 42 year-old salesman Robert al-Hajj. “I am only really concerned about what relates to Lebanon… I don’t usually read the global news section of the newspaper.”

    Hajj’s opinions broadly reflect those of the majority of people interviewed for this article.

    Editor and analyst at An-Nahar Nabil Bou Monsef believes that the lack of news coverage on the Tunisian issue “gives a clear indication that we are too concerned with our current crisis, which may have more dangerous repercussions on us as Lebanese than what is happening in Tunis.”

    Yet the riots in Tunisia are extremely significant, not just for the Maghreb state itself – which has been seen as an oasis of orderliness and relative prosperity since President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali took power 23 years ago – but for the entire region. It is a striking reminder that gross dissatisfaction can galvanize a population in protest of the ruling party, even in a police state such as Tunisia. Indeed, this has become apparent in the neighboring state of Algeria, where comparable demonstrations have also taken place. Moreover, according to the Guardian editorialist Brian Whitaker, the uprising in Tunisia was “the biggest, most important and most inspiring story in the Middle East [in 2010].”

    Despite its importance, those who are interested in developments in Tunisia may find it difficult to keep up-to-date. On the one hand, tight media control within Tunisia means that information on the riots is slow to filter out of the country, and when it does, it is often dissipated from abroad and posted across blogs, Facebook posts, Twitter feeds, Youtube clips and the like.

    However, Najat Charafeddine, host of political talk show Transit on Future TV, reckons the real explanation for this information deficit lies elsewhere. “I think the problem is that the [Lebanese and] Arabic media is not interested about what is happening in Tunisia,” she said. This, Charafeddine believes, is because developments in Tunisia do not directly affect Lebanon. “What happens in Tunisia is not going to hurt Lebanon.”

    Instead, she said, foreign news coverage here centers on events and countries that have a direct influence on Lebanon, such as Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Israel, the Occupied Territories and Turkey.

    Although it is unsurprising that most people interviewed by NOW Lebanon are interested in issues of direct impact to Lebanon, others are curious about global issues such as the Tunisian protests and are dissatisfied with the dearth of news coverage on them. “I am only aware of what is happening in Tunisia because I read BBC news a lot,” said AUB student Ali Faraj. “I never heard about it on TV.”

    When asked why he believed this was the case, Faraj blamed apathy within Lebanon to news that is not related to the country, as well as a tendency by the media to tailor the news to suit their political agendas. “There is a focus by the Lebanese media on who is right and who is wrong. And there is a constant fight between channels from opposite political affiliations… It serves as a political tool. And for that reason, the only things that we are exposed to – abundantly at least – is about that. So I would also blame the media.”

    Charafeddine, on the other hand, believes that indifference to what is occurring in Tunisia is not exclusive to Lebanon, but is rather part of a global trend. “It’s not only the Lebanese, I think all the Arab world, even America and the West, [are not interested in what is going on in Tunisia].”

    But for Charafeddine, a more worrying explanation – at least in terms of transparency – for the lack of news coverage may be the unwillingness of the media in Lebanon and other Arab countries to highlight problems in a foreign country lest negative aspects in their own country are discussed abroad. “The Arab world doesn’t want to talk about the regime in Tunisia because [that would be] interfering in Tunisian politics and affairs… Everyone has a problem in [their own country] so you cannot talk about their country so that they don’t talk about you.”

    Shane FARRELL
    NOW Lebanon
    10.01.2011

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