Lebanese TV Confuses Voters

There is no country in the Middle East as fragmented and full of contradictions as Lebanon, yet it is perhaps the most pluralistic society in the Arab world. With a few days left before the parliamentary election due to be held on June 7th, Lebanese emotions have been running high. At stake are 128 parliamentary seats. Competing parties have been fighting for them more fiercely on satellite television networks than in the crowded streets of Beirut.

The two principal sides vying for control of the Lebanese parliament are almost equally divided between the pro-Western, pro-Saudi March 14 Movement-- the current majority comprised of the Sunni Future Movement, the Christians represented by the Lebanese Forces and other Christian parties, and the Walid Jumblatt Druze on one side-- and the opposition, the March 8 Movement, led by Hezbollah in partnership with the Amal movement, the Talal Arsalan Druze and allied with Christian supporters of General Aoun on the other.

To understand politics in Lebanon is to understand the Lebanese satellite television landscape in a small country of approximately 4,000 square miles and 4 million people with more than a dozen satellite television networks divided, as is the case with the population and government, across sectarian lines.

Future TV (Al Mustaqbal), sometimes referred to as Hariri television, is the outlet of the Sunni community, and part of the media empire owned by the late Sunni Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri. The Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC) projects the perspective of the Maronite Christian community, and is run by Sheikh Pierre Daher and owned by a group of Lebanese-Saudi investors. Al Manar television is known as the Hezbollah channel. The National Broadcasting Network (NBN) is known on the street as the Nabih Berry television, after the Speaker of the Parliament. Then you have the newly resurrected Murr TV a.k.a MTV named after Gabrial al-Murr, a Greek Orthodox opposition figure. OTV is affiliated with the Free Patriotic Movement headed by General Awn. New TV claims no political affiliation but is owned by a man with strong ties to Qatar and vehemently opposed to the Saudi-backed Hariri clan. The list goes on.

Last night, I watched the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation television channel (LBC), where a presenter warned that Lebanon might be falling into the hands of Ahmadinejad. Then they cut to Samir Ja'Ja', the leader of the Lebanese Forces, "You either vote to what Ahmadinejad has said or to what our Patriarch has been advising," Ja'Ja' said to a room full of supporters.

On Hezbollah's Al Manar TV, a guest claimed that the United States has plans to make Lebanon an "American protectorate, just like Puerto Rico". The show's producers flashed Vice President Joe Biden during his quick visit to Lebanon on the screen.

New TV has been playing up the arrest of army Colonel Mansour Diab, who has been arrested on suspicion of spying for Israel. Stories of Israeli spies in Lebanon have been unfolding on television like chapters from a cloak and dagger novel. Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary general of Hezbollah, called for the death penalty for all suspects convicted of spying for Israel.

"Israel is trying to control the outcome of the Lebanese Election," an announcer says on NBN television.

Meanwhile, Future TV keeps revisiting the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri. A report in Der Spiegel, a German weekly, has recently implicated Hezbollah's agents in Hariri's murder.

Everyone in the West and Israel is asking the question, "Will Hezbollah win in the upcoming Lebanese election?"

I called a friend in Lebanon and said, "What do you think? Who will win?"

"I don't care," he answered, "I am so confused, I just want to go back to watching regular television programs."

Jamal Dajani produces the Mosaic Intelligence Report on Link TV.