The Arab Institute for Women

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Paper Launching: “Media Hostility: Case Studies on Backlash in the Lebanese Media”

On May 16, 2023, AiW hosted a panel discussion titled “Backlash in the Media,” which served as a launching event for the working paper “Media Hostility: Case Studies on Backlash in the Lebanese Media”. The paper was written by Activist and Researcher, Ms. Nay El Rahi, within the context of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) project: “Countering Backlash: Reclaiming Gender Justice”.

In an opening statement, Director of The AiW, Ms. Myriam Sfeir, welcomed the attendees and the panelists and reiterated The AiW’s pioneering role in advocating for gender equality and advancing research. This panel discussion, she confirmed, is an opportunity to discuss research outcomes, engage in a constructive dialogue, and analyze the role of media in provoking or countering backlash. Then, Journalist and Producer, Ms. Sobhiya Najjar, who served as the moderator of the panel discussion, introduced the paper’s main points and raised key questions for consideration and analysis.  

Ms. Nay El Rahi began the discussion by briefly defining the concept of backlash in the Lebanese context before delving deeper into the analysis of the paper’s findings on the role of Lebanese media outlets, specifically talk shows, in exacerbating backlash. In her intervention, Ms. El Rahi analyzed the paper’s results by focusing on the media’s response to and treatment of four cases of gender-based violence: the murder of Zeina Kanjo, the attempted murder of Lara Shaaban, and the custody battles of Lilian Sheaito and Ghina Al-Bayat. As Ms. El Rahi emphasized, media outlets, in most events, have framed violence against women as a point of view, described murder as an act of passion, engaged in victim-blaming, and promoted “narrow” and “individual” solutions to violence without addressing the contributing root causes and structural factors. This approach, she highlighted, actively promotes the misrepresentation of women’s experiences, stereotyping, and hate speech.

Then, Journalist and Co-founder of Daraj Media, Ms. Diana Moukalled, reflected on the paper’s findings by analyzing the role which the patriarchal belief system, unprofessionalism, and biases play in shaping the narrative of violence against women in media outlets. As she argued, several talk shows on Lebanese TV stations tend to transform issues of systemic violence into a mere difference of opinion, thus perpetuating a dangerous discriminatory narrative. Most traditional media outlets, she added, are inherently patriarchal, highly politicized in nature, and resistant to change. As Ms. Moukalled further argued, most media outlets’ programs do not align with the feminist agenda, but rather reproduce the same old patriarchal structures which enshrine discrimination and gender stereotypes. For example, she lastly pinpointed, “progressive” programs, which already are very briefly aired, are allotted graveyard airtime slots, while primetime slots are reserved to inherently patriarchal shows that reflect the outlet’s sociopolitical agenda.

Finally, Assistant Professor and Chairperson of the Department of Mass Media and Communications at the University of Balamand (UOB), Dr. Dima Issa, reinterpreted the role which several media outlets in Lebanon assume in shaping the discourse on women’s rights. As she argued, in most events, the media industry, which has at many times failed to become a platform for women’s voices and perspectives, still greatly adopts a patriarchal narrative that continues to unstoppably perpetuate stereotypes, misogyny, violence, and discrimination against women. This omnipresent narrative, according to Dr. Issa, further extends violence against women and inhibits positive social change. Importantly, she coined the term “trauma porn” to emphasize the sensationalizing and commodification of trauma and violence in news coverage, talk shows, and other programs. The “trauma porn” approach, Dr. Issa argued, transforms women’s tragedies to entertainment material and potentially contributes to the development of a culture that questions, tolerates, and normalizes violence. Indeed, the media outlets’ race to engage and attract more viewers through the glamorization of violence against women, Dr. Issa finally confirmed, is greatly contributing to the reinforcement of misogyny and patriarchy.  

The panel discussion concluded with a short Q&A session.