Lebanese TV channel Al Jadeed attacked over comedy sketch

News station has been shot at and hit by Molotov cocktails after Fachet Khele episode deemed offensive towards Shiite community

Fachet Khele anchor Dalia Ahmad was the victim of an online hate campaign after she criticised Hezbollah officials.
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The headquarters of Lebanon’s Al Jadeed news channel have been attacked three times in the last week.

The shooting and Molotov cocktail attacks came after it broadcast a comedy sketch on its December 21 Fachet Khele programme, which some viewers deemed offensive towards the Shiite community in the south of the country.

Fachet Khele translates as “Letting Off Steam”.

In the sketch, Lebanese comedian Joanna Karaki, wearing a black hijab and impersonating a southern Lebanese accent, said that UN peacekeepers in Lebanon “were let in the south” to maintain “peace”, including “Italians” and “English”, but they ended up “marrying their daughters”, resulting in “three quarters of children in the south having blue and green eyes and blond hair”.

The sketch came after the death of Irish soldier Pvt Sean Rooney, 24, who was shot in the head when his convoy came under attack in the southern village of Al Aqbiya on December 14 while travelling back to Beirut Airport.

UN Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil) soldiers have been present since 1978 to maintain peace after the withdrawal of Israeli forces.

Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militia and powerful political party that has a major presence in Al Aqbiya, handed over Pvt Rooney's suspected killer, who they say is not one of its members.

Al Jadeed spokesman Ibrahim Al Halabi said authorities have launched an investigation to identity the culprits.

“These shots can harm the surrounding buildings and not only the headquarters of the channel,” he added.

Ayman Mhanna, head of the Beirut-based Samir Kassir Foundation and Centre for Media and Cultural Freedom, said that the attack was “a blatant example of media freedom violation”.

“The latest attacks on Al Jadeed come amid a worrying decline for freedom of speech in Lebanon,” he said.

“Perpetrators of crimes against free speech do not fear consequences for their actions as authorities are not implementing any accountability mechanisms to protect media organisations and journalists.”

Lebanon recorded a drop in its “world press freedom rating”, falling 23 places in the Reporters Without Borders 2022 press freedom index.

A report by the SKeyes Centre for Media and Cultural Freedom at the Samir Kassir Foundation recorded more than 801 offences over the past six years, including assassinations and attacks against journalists, activists and media properties.

It is not the first time the TV channel has been the target of acts against freedom of speech.

Last year, Fachet Khele anchor Dalia Ahmad was the victim of an online hate campaign led by pro-Hezbollah social media accounts after she criticised the country’s party officials on her show, including Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

The host, who is of Sudanese and Egyptian descent, was the target of racist slurs because of her skin colour.

“The actual trigger is not Al Jadeed's sketch itself, but the anger that has been building up for a while after what many have perceived as an editorial shift away from Hezbollah and its allies towards a more critical position vis-a-vis all political forces, including Hezbollah,” Mr Mhanna said.

Heated controversy

The sketch has sparked heated controversy.

The supreme Islamic Shiite council denounced a campaign of “slander, disinformation and defamation against the [Shiite] community … under the guise of satirical programmes or otherwise in service of the Zionist project”.

Hezbollah MP Ibrahim Moussawi, chairman of the parliamentary information committee, said on December 25 that Al Jadeed had committed “a heinous act” against women in the south and demanded that authorities take the appropriate measures.

A day later, independent MP Paula Yacoubian said in a tweet that Mr Moussawi “can issue a statement” on the name of his “party”, referring to Hezbollah, but not “as chairman of the committee”.

“We have different opinions as members of the commission,” she said.

In another episode of Fachet Khele aired last week, Ms Ahmad said the sketch was taken out of context as the clip that went viral was cut.

It did not include the part when the comedian mentioned that the mingling between the foreign soldiers and local women was done through marriage.

She said, citing the Quran, that in the context of “official union”, the mixing of ethnicities is not a “insult” to anyone or against religion.

She stressed that the sketch was only a “satire”, not a “news programme”, and denounced the disproportionate torrent of insults and threats they received on social media, including racist comments.

“The issue is not the sketch; it is the mentality of a political party who thinks it is above criticism and satire,” she said.

Updated: January 03, 2023, 7:10 AM
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