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Corruption Charges Pit MP Against Talk Show Host on Lebanese TV

06/20/2009 04:12 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

On-air charges of vote buying during Lebanon's recent parliamentary election triggered a fiery shouting match between a legislator and a provocative TV talk show host that have reverberated in the country days after the incident occurred.

The accusations began when a guest on the show accused Member of Parliament Ibrahim Kanaan of buying votes in his electoral district but not paying the 400 voters when the ballots were cast.

The guest, Nabil Al Fala, was given free rein on the program for almost 20 minutes.

2009-06-20-1Assafirfasad1591172.jpg Ghada Eid in shouting match with legislator Ibrahim Kanaan by phone (Assafir)

When Kanaan was contacted by telephone and asked to respond, he began shouting and accused the host of lying, of political assassination, of being bribed by his detractors, and he threatened to sue her.

"You've blown this matter out of proportion and someone has paid you," yelled Kanaan at Ghada Eid, the host of "Al Fasad" (corruption) on New TV (http://www.newtvsat.tv).

She defied him to prove it, and he retorted that she was in no position to challenge anyone.

"You have no manners, shame on you," he slammed back.

The fight lasted almost 10 minutes on the air and was viewed on satellite TV in other Arab countries as well.

It also made it onto YouTube and drew 300 comments in Arabic and English -- many of them obscene -- and has to date attracted 31,501 viewers.

2009-06-20-IbrahimKanaanwebhomepage.jpg MP Ibrahim Kanaan's home page

"Shame" was also the title of a comment in the key newspaper An-Nahar's weekly TV supplement that blasted Kanaan and presenter Eid for their live verbal altercation.

The argument, devoid of any ethical or professional constraints, "Shows the level we've reached of not considering people's position and dignity, on the one hand, and the ease of attacking journalists with the worst insults, on the other, particularly by a responsible legislator who lost control of his nerves," said the comment.

It added that what was broadcast on that program, dedicated to fighting wrongdoing, was totally rejected given its offense to the public.

"The (host's) standard was bad and the response was bad," said Najia Houssari, an editor for the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat. "The person (Al Fala) who accused the MP is not reliable, so he's hardly a reference."

Other comments poured in from media analysts complaining about "gotcha journalism" who said charges that weren't fully substantiated should not have been aired that way, even if the legislator was at fault.

Kanaan's bloc colleagues, and he personally, have often campaigned on anti-corruption platforms.

In a play on words, a cartoon on his site showed Kanaan telling a constituent his vote wasn't a tradeoff for paving roads, in a reference to candidates who asphalt potholed streets on election eve to curry favor and secure votes.

2009-06-20-Voteisntasphaltforroads.jpg "Your vote isn't asphalt"

"Ghada's style is not journalistic or professional," said Lebanese journalist/blogger Ibrahim Arab. "She attacks and is provocative, but even if she were right, Kanaan should have controlled himself."

Assafir newspaper later reported that Kanaan had appeared on a friendlier station, OTV, and accused the other guest on Eid's show of having a criminal record, to demonstrate that his statements of electoral bribery were questionable.

"The program, focusing on fighting corruption, is good as an idea," said Lebanese University media professor Ali Rammal. "But we viewers have a problem with evaluating facts."

He noted that incriminating evidence from the show's many episodes never seemed to take its legal course and the lack of follow-up meant criminals went scot-free, so the program's credibility was at stake.

Other critics said the station's owner traditionally used the show to lash out at opponents and turned even the smallest of issues into causes for political grandstanding or bargaining chips for favors.

"There's no investigation and no link between the news event (on corruption) and the source of information," said Rammal. "The show isn't about corruption, it is corruption."

2009-06-20-AlFasadCorruption.jpg Al Fasad (corruption) show ad He added that a statement by host Eid days after the program was aired that she still had information to divulge was a form of hectoring and represented unprofessional intimidation.

Lebanese comedian André Jadeah, also writing in An-Nahar, said the loud mudslinging had terrified children in his neighborhood into hiding under their beds.

"I don't care who's right or wrong, but barging into our homes with such street talk is unacceptable. It's enough, forget live broadcasts," he complained.

Kanaan, a lawyer who is a member of the Free Patriotic Movement party allied with Hezbollah, is apparently known for his short fuse and outbursts at journalists.

According to Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, he has a track record of run-ins with the media and is famous for using foul language.

Eid, a Lebanese University journalism graduate, had worked as a newspaper and magazine reporter and editor before moving to TV news and landing her own show. An Arab website listed her as one of the most powerful Lebanese women of 2007.

She has been accused alternatively of attacking the majority and minority factions in parliament.

But after the explosive show with minority coalition member Kanaan was aired, his partisans targeted her saying her motive to attack the MP was because of her family ties to a cabinet minister in the majority bloc, at odds with Kanaan's.

She told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper she would sue Kanaan for slander.