By Louay Khraish
Now that the new television season has begun, viewers across Lebanon are tuning in to view the line up of programming, especially those on MTV. And, one of the most anticipated television shows is MTV’s, “Enta Horr” (You are Free), which returns for its second season.
Hosted by Joe Maalouf, “Enta Horr” positions itself as a watchdog that serves the public interest. Through investigative journalism, the show exposes corruption in the public and private sectors in Lebanon and promises to uncover more political corruption and corporate wrongdoing this season as well.
While the show’s reporting is often thorough, accurate, and verified, one of its weaknesses is that it veers towards sensationalizing stories with eye-catching headlines and scandalmongering. Another drawback is that the program regularly takes on a depressive, pessimistic tone, leaving the viewer feeling helpless and hopeless. “Enta Horr” seems to focus on the negative without presenting any solutions. The program does not inform the audience of organizations and individuals who are working to counter the negative in our society.
Let’s look at three episodes from last season.
One episode exposes the crooked meat traders, selling spoiled meat to major supermarkets and hotels. The episode succeeds in forcing the government to take immediate action. However, the episode is presented in a manner that leaves the viewer believing that there are no honest meat traders in Lebanon. The episode makes it appear as if there is not one single supermarket that sells edible meat in the country. If this is the case, the whole country should have been food poisoned. The episode instills fear in the viewers instead of informing them of supermarkets that adhere to strict quality control by buying meat from trustworthy traders. Grouping all meat traders and supermarkets in one bundle is generalization, and generalization is not investigative journalism.
The episode on the public school abuse presents the subject matter frankly and courageously, bringing the issue of child abuse and molestation to the forefront of public discourse. However, let’s keep in mind that the Ministry of Education is responsible for 285,399 students, 38,723 schoolteachers, and 1,365 public schools from the pre-school level to the secondary level. Summing up the condition of students in public schools in Lebanon, like the show does, by one horrific incident is a gross exaggeration. If Joe Maalouf is so concerned with the issue of child abuse why doesn’t he then inform the audience on where to seek help in cases of child abuse? Why aren’t the viewers exposed to the work of organizations like The Lebanese National Program for Child Protection, Child Protection Initiative, the Lebanese chapter of The International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, and other non-governmental organizations against child abuse like Himaya Lebanon?
By far, the episode on homosexuality garners Joe Maalouf the most attention, not only because it callously “outs” homosexuals in a society, which still shuns and persecutes them, but especially because it has resulted in the arrest of nearly forty men. The episode is the most sensationalized, verging on the repulsive, with hidden cameras, invading the privacy of individuals with no regard to their personal rights. The whole episode takes on a moral, religious tone with Joe Maalouf arrogantly lecturing the viewer—as if from a church pulpit—on the decadence of our society. There are more important social issues to deal with than a story about consenting adults having sex—issues like drug addiction or the sex trade, which imports Eastern European women to work as prostitutes in illegal brothels, or the employment of hundreds of children who are deprived of education and their childhood.
There are many people doing evil in Lebanon, primarily politicians and corporations, but there are organizations and individuals, who are doing good deeds, but the viewer never hears about them because the media does not shed enough light on them. Joe Maalouf is of course horr to show both sides of a story or to exploit it and sensationalize it for ratings. However, for the integrity of his program and MTV, showing the positive that can counter a negative situation will not only behoove the credibility of the program but will also give the audience hope and perhaps an incentive to act. Here’s to hoping that Joe Maalouf avoids straying into arrogance and pessimism this season.