MTV returns

The voice of the “silent majority” is to return to screens across Lebanon and the world come March 31, MTV [Murr Television] chairman Michel G. al-Murr announced at a press conference on Wednesday. Neither March 14 nor March 8, MTV would return to prove that Lebanon could not be silenced. “Not Future, not Manar, not MTV,” Murr said.

MTV was closed on September 4, 2002 after a court ruled that it had violated article 68 of the law on election broadcasts. Despite mass protests across Lebanon, the channel was unable to reopen in the following years.

Speaking in the studio that until 2002 hosted a wide range of prominent Lebanese figures, some of whom have since been killed, Murr said the station would resume broadcasting news and political programs in March, with plans to expand to entertainment come September.

“Throughout the days [MTV] was closed, I never once thought it would live again – because it never died, thanks to you,” Murr told his audience, many of whom were moved by a fourteen-minute documentary that highlighted MTV’s legacy, the demonstrations against the then-government’s decision to shut it down, and the broader Lebanese struggle to stand up to a thirty-year occupation.

Michel, the son of Gabriel al-Murr, discussed the political – and family – feud that led to the channel’s closure, but declined to comment on rumors that his father would run for parliament in the coming elections. He did, however, say that the Murr family had moved beyond their past differences.

Murr skirted questions on the channel’s tense relations with Pierre Daher, who heads the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC), Lebanon’s other major Christian channel, and said talks with Antoine Choueiri, LBC’s advertising mogul, were still underway. Murr also denied that the Lebanese Forces “or any other foreign or domestic party” was behind the reopening. A factor that did facilitate the reopening, however, was the Doha Agreement in May, 2008, the chairman told his audience.

In denying accusation of foreign backing, the MTV chairman said the channel would run on its own “humble” resources and would bring together faces made famous during the channel’s early run and new members of the team.

He also challenged reporters to back up accusations and to name names as a reporter accused Murr trying to “fill the failed role” of al-Hurra and recruited much of its personnel, citing Paula Yaacoubian and Claude Abu Nader Hindi as two examples. “Paula works for Future Television, and was one of our first presenters,” Murr responded, “and Claude Abu Nader worked for ANB.”

“We have nothing to hide. We will prove that it is untrue.”

Claude Abu Nader Hindi is to return to the channel with her own show, and Ghayath Yazbeck is to resume his post as head of the news desk. Paula Yaacoubian is also reported to be returning to MTV. Rumors that Yazbeck Wehbe and Gisele Khoury will be joining MTV’s ranks have also surfaced in the press over the past month. The only confirmed rumor was that LBC’s Walid Abboud, who sat at Gabriele’s side during the press conference, would be MTV’s editor-in-chief.

NOW Lebanon talked to Abboud, as well as MTV's Murr and Ghayath Yazbeck, who heads the news desk, on what reopening MTV would mean for the Lebanese.

The channel would face all questions and accusations “professionally and independently,” Murr said, and would, as it had before, give air time to all political parties and figures. Murr reiterated his belief that the Doha Agreement had played a major role in facilitating the reopening of his studios.

And on allegations that those returning to MTV were “highly politicized,” Murr said, “We cannot categorize media faces. They have the right to practice their profession wherever they may be, on any screen. Those who worked for MTV were disbursed to a number of other media outlets; it is not because of their political belonging, but because they had to practice their profession and make a living. Today they are returning to do their job.”

The media mogul defined MTV’s role in the coming elections as one of “allowing everyone to get their voice through to the people,” without sidelining anyone. “At the end of the day, the viewer decides. We are not here to lead an electoral battle. We are here to play the role of a media that is not a propaganda tool for anyone or any party or current,” he told NOW Lebanon.

“There is no doubt that we will affect Christian public opinion, but also on Lebanese public opinion in general… So Christians in particular? No. Lebanese here and abroad, to say you have a role you must fulfill, as we did in the past, to ask them to rise to their role again and not give up or lose hope, to know that this country is theirs and that we can all live together, build a nation on institutions and go back to the Lebanon we knew before, and this is what we saw in the past few months, after Doha. My heart grows when I see the people, the traffic, the construction, the world is facing a financial crisis –and yet it is as though nothing happened here, and the country is fine – and this is what we want for Lebanon.”

Despite attempts to reopen the channel in 2006, which were foiled by the July War, the “appropriate conditions” presented themselves, Walid Abboud told NOW Lebanon. On allegations that these conditions center on the six-month rundown to Lebanon’s parliamentary elections, Abboud said, “In the chain of politics in Lebanon, any time would have been deemed for political ends.”

On where MTV will stand vis-a-vis its number one rival, LBC, Abboud said the matter was up to the public. “Our task is to practice objective journalism.”

Yet despite his insistence that MTV would have no political alignment, even within the Christian circles, the veteran journalist and television presenter said the station had been shut down because of its “national vision,” a vision he promised it would continue to pursue.

“MTV is back to fulfill its role of serving the nation as free media and through scientific objective journalism,” Abboud told NOW Lebanon.

Ghayath Yazbeck, who is to once again head the channel’s news department, told NOW Lebanon that MTV had not changed.

“This department, first of all, is not a fixed machine. It is made up of people. We will have a very good selection of people. They will be well-versed in the principles of journalism…and ethics… Depending on how natural and authentic the [reporters] who convey the picture they see to their people are, the people will respond to them.”

Yet Yazbeck said he would forbid his reporters from political aspirations, at least within the walls of the studios. “But we leave all this at the door when they get to the office, we leave them outside. They give me only the information and knowledge they gained and we present to the people something in which we respect their intelligence, and tell them:  We know you are demanding, and we are going to do our best to satisfy you.”

“We will respect this majority that we have called silent that has lost its role in society, which is respected by no one… Quality is a major concern for us, and the people will judge. I am not a military man, and I’m not here to stage a military coup or speak in the name of a party. My only party is Lebanon. Lebanon, which we were martyred for the first time and will be martyred for a second time if necessary. If the conditions of [the years] 2000 and 2002 rise again, we will act in the same manner and will have the same fervor in defending this country, because it is a gem. As journalists, we must help in its maintenance … and protect it,” the news director told NOW Lebanon.