Religious Media to Serve Civil Peace: Reflection and Action
Religious media has taken an important space in the media landscape in Lebanon, but what is its role in strengthening civil peace? UNDP and Maharat Foundation invited religious media representatives to gather on July 18, 2017 to discuss the monitoring study titled "Religious Media Speech and its Conformity to Civil Peace". The study was prepared by Maharat Foundation in cooperation with the UNDP "Peace Building in Lebanon" project and funded by Germany.
The UNDP “Peace Building in Lebanon” project has been working with Maharat Foundation on monitoring the local media outlets’ commitment to the “Journalists’ Pact for Strengthening Civil Peace in Lebanon”, which they signed in 2013.And since religious media were not enrolled in the Pact, two new studies were dedicated for better understanding religious media in Lebanon.
The discussion of the first study was held in April 2017 and focused on the status of religious media in Lebanon. The second study focused on the content and speech of those mediums.
The discussion session was an opportunity to present the findings of the second study on religious media to the participants and debate it with them.
The second study analyzed the content of monitored programs in 9 radio stations and 3 television channels, focusing on the type of shows and whether they were interactive, educational or instructional.
In this context, Dr. Ali Rammal, professor at the Faculty of Information at the Lebanese University, and who was involved in the preparation of tthisstudy, presented some indicators and pointed out that 315 religious programs and more than 150 hours a day were monitored.
The study shows that religious programs that are based on faith directly constitute 63 % of the programs’ structure. The rest of the programs are inspired by the doctrine that refers to the life of the apostles and the good companions.
Dr. Rammal noted that 75 % of these media programs are registered. He concluded: “The content of religious media institutions is inspired by religious texts. Their main goal is to provide religious education to their audience.”
The discussion was facilitated by Mr. Walid Abboud, prominent media figure and MTV news Editor-in-Chief. He triggered the participants’ participation with his question: “How can we conduct the influencing power of the religious media to serve civil peace? To what extent can we use religious media content to ease the situation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon? – especially after the recent rage of racism towards Syrian refugees that the country witnessed on social media?”
Father Abdo Abou Kasam, Director of the Catholic Media Center, commented “We should look at Syrian refugees from a humanitarian perspective. Letting go of historical grudges and racism is the way to initiate positive discourse in media.”
Director of Al-Bacha’er Radio, Hussein Bachir, noted: “Amidst the religious-based crises, wars and fights surrounding Lebanon, accepting the “Other” has become a more delicate and difficult process. One must ask, are religious media institutions working on it?”
Researcher in religious media, Ali Abbas, added: “There is a major obstacle facing this process. We do not notice religious media working towards civil peace and on improving the national situation, because the ownership of religious media is in the service of religious institutions.
According to Sister Tidola Abdo, professor at the Department of Religious Science and Media at Saint-Joseph University: “The solution to promote civil peace and accept the ‘Other’ starts with education and building personal constructive relationships with the ‘Other’. Therefore, the religious discourse must stem from a theoretical approach and therefore be used for the promotion of civil peace and for reaching a previously unattained reconciliation.”
Mufti Ahmed Taleb from Dar El Fatwa supports the idea of “Establishing a media institution that would be dedicated to broadcasting shared religious values and closing all missionary religious mediums”; he also calls for “limiting religious practices to Mosques and Churches.”
On another note, Stefanie Scharf, Head of Cooperation at the German Embassy in Beirut, said: “A free media landscape is an indicator of a developed country; this is why Germany is keen on supporting initiatives that promote freedom of opinion and expression”.
“If media can fuel conflicts, media can also build peace. Engaging religious media to strengthen civil peace is something to be proud of”, concluded UNDP Country Director, Celine Moyroud.
Watch this infographic video presenting the findings of the discussed study “"Religious Media Speech and its Conformity to Civil Peace": https://youtu.be/fj59aIhFXTo