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Investigative Journalism Thrives in Lebanese Media, Remains Missing at Universities

Investigative Journalism Thrives in Lebanese Media, Remains Missing at Universities

Monday, 6 July, 2020 - 07:30
Lebanese protesters carry a sign during a rally in downtown Beirut in October 2019. (AP)
Beirut – Viviane Haddad

Investigative journalism attracts people because it exposes secrets and major scandals in corruption and humanitarian, political and environmental crimes. Countless movies and documentaries have highlighted the achievements of this field. Perhaps the most famous case of investigative journalism was the Watergate scandal that forced US President Richard Nixon to resign in 1974.

In Lebanon investigative journalism has thrived after the eruption of the October 17, 2019 popular revolution against politicians that have robbed the people blind. News in the media has since been rife with reports on all forms of corruption. There aren’t enough investigative journalists to cover the vast cases of corruption in the country.

Many journalists have risen to prominence for their efforts in exposing corruption, despite many threats they have received. They include Riad Kobaissi, Layal Saad and Layal Bou Moussa, who work for al-Jadeed television, Edmond Sassine and Maroun Nassif at LBCI television and Riad Tawk at MTV. Their efforts have exposed corruption in fuel shipments, smuggling at Beirut port and at the state-owned electricity company and other institutions, making them the talk of the town.

And with the absence of accountability by the state, investigative journalists have taken it upon themselves to play the role of informant, investigator and police. They have pointed fingers at top officials, backed by damning reports and information.

Investigative journalism is not new to Lebanon. Edmond Sassine has been teaching it at the Antonin University. He said that this field of work differs than regular journalism. The latter is just regular reporting that is based on official sources, while the former is based on individual initiatives and the reporter’s pursuit of the truth.

On how a journalist decides to investigate an issue, he explained: “We always start off with a suspicious issue recounted to us by a witness or that we discover while probing a certain file. The arduous journey then begins. The process includes turning to informants, assessing possibilities and uncovering fake individuals to eventually reach the tangible threads of a scandal.”

“We also contact people and carry out intense research to obtain the largest amount of possibilities and evidence,” he added.

Sassine has succeeded in turning the state’s attention to several corruption files, such as smuggling at customs and illegal borders between Lebanon and Syria. He has also investigated mismanagement at the state power company, Electricity du Liban.

On whether he has ever felt defeated for failing to achieve his goal, he said: “From the moment investigative work begins, the journalist must commit to his efforts regardless of the challenges… Yes, I often feel frustrated because a problem may remain unresolved even after shedding light on it because officials fail to act against perpetrators.”

Moreover, Sassine lamented that universities in Lebanon do not teach investigative journalism. This is “completely wrong,” he said. “It is necessary for it to be taught because it teaches would-be journalists how to reveal facts and fix an entire system.”

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