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Monday, May 21, 2012

Freedom of the press, Hezbollah-style

From Al Akhbar:
Restrictions have been imposed at Hezbollah’s Manar television to avoid the appearance of unveiled women on the station’s programs.

The decision by Manar TV not to host unveiled women on its programs is no secret, although the management seems to be dealing with it as such. The media PR manager, Ibrahim Farhat, politely declines to answer questions on the subject, promising “to talk about it later.”

He says that the “information is not accurate,” while refusing to explain where the inaccuracy lies. “When the (inaccurate) information is published, we will issue a response,” he adds.

However, what seems to be inaccurate to the manager, is very clear to the station’s employees, who were informed of the decision more than a year ago and have been implementing it.

Manar employees are often embarrassed when their contacts lead them to a guest who would be informative on a subject under discussion, but who does not fulfill the new condition: “She has to be wearing the hijab.”

How did the decision come about? One employee recalls that the management held a meeting with the employees about a year and a half ago and informed them of a series of decisions, one of which was to not host unveiled women.

The employees do not know at what level these decisions were made, but they suspect that they came directly from the general secretary of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah.

{T]he result was that management took the decision, without discussing it beforehand with the journalists. It was made clear at the time: “If it is difficult to implement in a certain program, then cancel the program.”

With time, however, some exceptions began to appear. In news bulletins and reports, unveiled women are allowed to appear. They are also allowed in reports where people on the street are asked for their opinion. So the standard is “what can be controlled.”

There is evidence that the management imposed restrictions on what headscarves can be worn by female presenters, insisting that the headcovering had to be a dark uniform color.

Even the “beauty” of the presenters was part of this approach. For example, the management got rid of a number of female presenters because they had had plastic surgery.

These measures sealed a series of (economically) “daring” decisions initiated in the advertising department, which operates under strict conditions. The station, for example, does not show advertisements for products on the Israeli boycott list.