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“The newspaper succeeded, but?” – on Al Akhbar

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As’ad Abu Khalil, a professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus and visiting professor at UC, Berkeley, wrote in the independent pro-opposition newspaper Al Akhbar on its first anniversary on November 9: “More than a year has passed since the publishing of the first issue of Al Akhbar. We couldn’t have known that Joseph Samaha would be absent despite his own will. Joseph who wanted this newspaper to be the summation of the experience of a lifetime. When I met comrades Joseph, Ibrahime Al-Amine, and Khaled Saghieh in the offices of the newspaper which were not fully furnished yet a week before the start of the Israeli aggression on Lebanon, I quickly expressed my anxiety and my fear. Joseph reassured me that he will be the editor in chief and that he will have full authority. I was comforted by this but I asked him whether the newspaper will become just another horn supporting a single faction as all the other news papers do in Lebanon. But he reassured me by saying that the newspaper’s path will be his own. He knew that this statement would eliminate my fears…

“The adventurers who set up Al Akhbar deserve our respect for their effort to launch a new newspaper (without any guaranteed results because it is not financed by the embassies of the oil kingdoms) in a country full of newspapers. The newspapers in Lebanon mimic each other: in tabulation, in form, in typing, and in the titles. Of course they differ in their policies according to the difference in the sources of income which moved towards unification in the Al-Hariri era… The financing of the Lebanese newspapers is a long and thorny issue. Rafik Al-Hariri tried to control all the newspapers and media in Lebanon as he couldn’t tolerate the presence of a single opposition newspaper. He dealt with the media according to the methods employed by his masters, the Al-Saud family: horns and only horns. He largely succeeded. Al-Hariri’s financial clout and his enmity to Al Akhbar existed before Al Akhbar came into the light. Never has a newspaper been so criticized and vilified months before its launch…

“One of the colleagues in As Safir told me weeks before Al Akhbar was issued that the newspaper’s fate would be determined in its first week: if it succeeded in its first week then it will survive but if it failed then it will inevitably collapse. He was right and Al Akhbar succeeded despite the fact that it was launched amidst a destructive war whose repercussions are not over yet. The newspaper brought innovation not only to its methods of tabulation and production, but also in its coverage. Al Akhbar succeeded in its coverage of its primary issue on its first page because it used untraditional standards and this is the school of Joseph Samaha which is characterised by its professional and political daring. There is no doubt that Joseph’s editorials represented an attractive element as the man represented - after Al-Hariri’s assassination - an independent political line not connected to parties or sects in Lebanon…

“The innovation in Al Akhbar came in other forms as well: for, similarly to New TV and As Safir, it included a politically religiously diversified team (with certain bounds according to the opposition’s lines) and this was reflected in its coverage which bypassed sectarian and religious boundaries, and this is not easy in a country like Lebanon… But there is more than one weakness in Al Akhbar. The newspaper has not found a clear political line for itself yet. It often seems to be going in different directions, and sometimes in opposite directions. There are those who represent the left and those who represent the Free Patriotic movement and those who are liberal but who tend to support the opposition. Joseph’s absence increased the need to draw a new line for the newspaper without forcing this line down the throats of all the writers of the newspaper as happens in An Nahar sometimes… There is definitely room for improvement. For the lead editorial often doesn’t bring anythin g new and it suffered for the length of the whole of last year from heavy, non-newsworthy testimonies by the Saudi ambassador in Lebanon often along the lines of the “kingdom is protective of Lebanon’s stability”… Al Akhbar is also criticized for defending the resistance (while the newspapers advocating normalization of relations with Israel are not faulted) even though it published more than article criticizing the resistance and Hezbollah which is good because the other newspapers give zero margin for anyone that differs with them. As an example, do we ever read a critique of Samir Geagea or Sa’d Al-Hariri in An Nahar?...” - Al Akhbar Lebanon, Lebanon

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