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Religious Media, why does it matter?

Religious Media, why does it matter?
Media today is playing a leading role in shaping public opinions and strengthening and/or weakening the modern society’s unity and cohesion.

Particularly in Lebanon, where private political media was used as a weapon during war (from the article “News Bulletin Introductions and the Civil War” by Georges Sadaqa, the Peace Building in Lebanon news supplement, April 2017), this time the UNDP and Maharat Foundation’s media monitoring is tackling the role of Lebanese Religious Media, in sustaining peace.

The UNDP “Peace Building in Lebanon” project has been observing, for the past three years, the implementation of the Journalists’ Pact for Strengthening Civil Peace by the participating media outlets in cooperation with Maharat Foundation.

The Pact that was launched by the UNDP, was formulated in 2013 with the participation, comments and consent of 34 editors-in-chief and media representatives under the patronage of the Ministry of Information. It aimed at strengthening civil peace and highlighting the role of the media in Lebanon.

Under the framework of the Pact, around 30 religious media representatives, academics, and organizations involved in intercultural and religious dialogue, were gathered on Thursday 20 April 2017, to discuss the latest media monitoring study titled "Religious Media in Lebanon; Reality and Organizational Framework" and funded by UKDFID.

The main goal of this session was to present the findings of the study and understand the increasing role of religious media in the light of the evolving number of media institutions in Arab space.

As is the case in Lebanon, where most religious media institutions, particularly the audiovisual media, are flourishing in the absence of a full authority. Most of the religious media continue to function outside any specific legal framework to regulate them.

The discussion was facilitated by Prominent Media Figure and MTV news Editor-In-Chief, Mr. Walid Abboud, and was divided onto three main topics, the legal organization of religious media organizations, the impact of the spread of religious media in Lebanon and the requirements of their involvement in sustaining civil peace.

Father Abdu Abu Kasm, director of the Catholic Information Center, said that the church's media committee was responsible for Christian religious media, which began in the early 1990s. The relation with the state is based on a measure that is not yet legalized. He stressed on the role of the Christian media, which aims at spreading the culture of peace, promoting human and religious values and interfaith dialogue saying “if there is a will to organize religious media in Lebanon, we will definitely participate.”

Answering the question of Mr. Abboud about the role of religious media in society, Executive Director of Radio al-Fajr, Ayman al-Masri, replied "it is not required of the religious media to provide a secular speech and the function of this media is awareness raising and educational.” He added "our problem in some religious discourse is that it denies the other, and it exists in some religious media as well. We have to get the listener from the silos of worship to the broad life that allows us to meet with each other," Masri said.

According to Mr. Mohamad Rizk, member of the Supreme Council for the Regulation of Religious Media and Media Officer of the Supreme Shiite Islamic Council “unifying the organizational framework is a challenge to all media institutions, not only the religious ones. We have always tried to distance religious discourse from extremism and incitement because we believe that its ultimate role is to maintain civil peace.”

“Now is the right time to think of a new organizational reality to religious media institutions, particularly during the national “plan of change” in the media led by the current Ministry of Information” said member of the National Media Council Mr. Ghaleb Kandil.

Mr. Kandil added “signing pacts is not enough. We need to modify the law to include conditions related to dialogue and civil peace in order to reach tangible results and so that the media does not turn into barricades that put the country at risk.”

In this context, Mufti Ahmed Taleb from Dar Al Fatwa, said that "in our reality, media is dependent on political parties, and therefore there is no concern for the rights of citizens. Religious media is inciting through its speech intentionally or unintentionally. Should religious media promote religious thought or aim at raising the Lebanese sense of citizenship?”

The discussion was rich with shared experiences of the represented media institutions, who in their turn focused on the importance of establishing an organizational framework for religious media institutions. Participants all agreed that the Lebanese religious media is required to conduct self-criticism and to counter the incitement of religious media coming from abroad in order to contribute to social stability and lead peace building movements.