SUN 26 - 5 - 2019
 
Date: May 8, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
In memory of the martyrs of information
Hiba Huneini
On May 6 every year, the Lebanese commemorate Press Martyrs’ Day in recognition of all journalists and activists who lost their lives defending their state, patriotic principles and freedom of expression. In May 1916, a group of Lebanese people, among them journalists, were hanged in Union Square in Downtown Beirut, and it was called the Martyrs Square afterward. Lebanon started commemorating Martyrs Day in 1936, and this day was considered as Press Martyrs’ Day starting from February 1977.

The printing press was in Lebanon before the foundation of the state itself, and Lebanon has been renowned for its high level of freedom of expression.

However, Lebanon’s history has witnessed a long list of journalists who sacrificed their lives while fighting for their values and principles. Among them was Kamel Mrowa, the former publisher of The Daily Star as well as owner and editor-in-chief of the successful Arabic daily Al-Hayat. Mrowa made The Daily Star the leading English language newspaper in the Middle East.

The list rolls to Salim Lawzi, who was killed in a horrifying manner, to Gebran Tueni, whose words and bravery made him a symbol of freedom and devotion, and to Samir Kassir, who dreamed of and fought for Beirut’s “spring” and the establishment of the nation state. Lebanon’s history is stamped with martyrs and journalists who shaped our society.

The assassination of journalists and detention of others do nothing but fuel hatred and polarization, threatening to erupt into chaos and conflict all over again.

Lebanon is at a critical juncture, where the battle between information and disinformation is causing enormous harm to the unity of the society and its prosperity. Political polarization has been on the rise since the opening of polling stations in the May 2018 parliamentary elections.

The rise of social divide and polarization have been amplified by streams of disinformation on all sorts of mass media and social media outlets due to political wars of attrition. The damage has threatened the function of critical institutions, like those of the banking and financial sectors.

The risks Lebanon is facing due to disinformation and misinformation are clearly part of a global phenomenon. Last week, on May 3, World Press Freedom Day was celebrated in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where a three-day conference was held at the African Union headquarters on “Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in times of Disinformation.”

The subject of the celebration highlights one of the challenges of our time: the spread of disinformation and the decay of truth.

Ironically, facts are becoming foreign in the “information age.”

The spread of politically, ideologically, economically, socially and culturally driven disinformation has made the pursuit of facts and accuracy a tiresome task.

The tactics that disinformation spreaders have used are becoming extremely sophisticated and based on the vulnerabilities of human reasoning and thinking biases.

The flow of information is the lifeblood of any society. The purity of this data stream is the key determinant of the health of society because of its impact on all social relations, from the family to the national level.

We in Lebanon need to take this issue very seriously, especially while discussing key socio-economic decisions that will have an enduring impact on us and the coming generations. The key task should fall on the shoulders of policymakers and civil society organizations, who ought to start an intensive process for social dialogue in order to effectively share information in a transparent manner and increase networking among the actors concerned.

This process of “hypersocialization” is crucial if we are to weather the storms of budget discussions, austerity measures and political economy reforms.

Hiba Huneini is manager of the youth and civic engagement program at the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development. Email her at [email protected]
 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 08, 2019, on page 3.

The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Arab Network for the Study of Democracy
 
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