Journalist Talal Salman in lecture at AUB: reflecting on the Lebanese press and its fight for survival

Sally Abou Melhem <sa256@aub.edu.lb>, Office of Communications​

Journalist Talal Salman gave a lecture at the American University of Beirut (AUB) entitled "Journalism: between the profession of informing and reporting and attempting to play the role of the political advocate," which was part of an encounter with him organized by the University for Seniors at AUB.

In his lecture, Salman recalled some of his experiences during his nearly 60 years in journalism. He described how the Lebanese press reflects the Arab situation and conflicts in the region, especially as newspapers in the Arab countries generally reflect the regime’s point of view. He added that the press in Arab countries and in Lebanon could not avoid being politically affected, especially as some of them have a popular influence. Thus, he said, some newspapers approximated the political parties, and became their spokespersons and lost their objectivity. Salman also voiced his opinion that foreign newspapers took unfair or biased positions on issues of the Arab struggle. He said that western media outlets supported their governments in conflicts between the West and national resistance against colonialism in the Arab world.

Salman then talked about the harsh conditions of the press in Lebanon, which in the current political climate even threaten its existence. He addressed the challenges to the printed press in the world because of the shift to cheaper and faster electronic media. He said the printed press readership in Lebanon is constantly shrinking and that the press institutions are mostly individual institutions, financed by their owners. He added that as expenses increase and income decreases, they are “at best rigidly stuck at a certain level of deficit that is circumvented by means and methods that affect their independence and compromise their role as an honest source of news and information."

Salman presented some recollections from his personal experience at As-Safir newspaper, which he founded on March 26, 1974. He spoke about the history of the Lebanese press, which was one of the most important platforms for Arab countries in conflict in the mid-1950s and 1960s, when Beirut was "pluralistic, and everyone accepted everybody else." He said Beirut lost its position as the Arab press house after the civil war in the mid-1970s, while Lebanese journalists contributed to the launch and success of Arab newspapers. Meanwhile, the Lebanese press, "regressed to narrow localism that almost deleted its leading role."

He then mentioned some of the operational reasons for the crisis in the economic independence of the Lebanese press. One reason, according to Salman, is that Lebanon is not an industrial country, and that the values and customs of the industrial society do not prevail in it. He pointed out that in most cases, capital is individual or familial and is not the result of accumulation of industrial and collective production directed at the public.

In closing, Salman described the current situation that exists in most parts of the Arab world and spoke of the disappearance of political conflict between Arab regimes based on principles and ideas, and on national and patriotic interests. He pointed to the change that "confessional regimes" are attempting to prevent by “making Beirut absent, with its venues and the vitality of its people, who have known patterns of freedom of opinion and movement that may not be ideal, but are contagious , and more importantly, with its media outlets, written as well as visual.”

He concluded: "The Lebanese press may not be qualified to play the role of the protector of revolutions, but with its chaos and its plurality of platforms, it expresses a demand, or rather a right, to know what is happening in our present and what is being planned for our future. This is why the press in Lebanon is in a fight for survival, as it is the last Arab witness to what is being devised for this glorious nation.  My words are similar to an obituary, and I ask for the forgiveness of God to me and you, brothers and sisters who seek culture, and knowledge, and what is beyond the news.”

Following the lecture, Talal Salman engaged in a lively question-and-answer session with the audience.