Michel Hajji Georgiou, a political analyst at the Lebanese French-language daily L'Orient-Le Jour, was awarded the 2007 Gebran Tueni Award, given annually by the World Association of Newspapers and the Lebanese An-Nahar daily to a young newspaper editor or publisher from the Arab world in memory of Gebran Tueni, the Lebanese editor who was assassinated in December 2005. In an interview with APN just after receiving the award, he spoke about his view of the role of the press in Lebanon and the Arab world.
APN: You have just been awarded the second Gebran Tueni Prize. How does it feel? Michel Hajji Georgiou: I was never thinking about winning a prize, I was just doing my job. Commitment to free speech, civil liberties and democracy through journalism is a natural approach for me. I am, however, very happy and very honoured to receive this award which carries with it a heavy responsibility. Firstly because it carries the name of Gebran Tueni, and also because of the current situation in Lebanon. The Beirut Spring is running out of steam. The country is very divided and is sinking into a crisis with no end in sight. We are heading for a dubious compromise involving a military leader in power and this sort of experiment has never been a comfortable one. Safeguards will need to be established to protect civil liberties and the gains of the Independence Intifada.
I am pleased that it is Gebran who is driving this ferment since he is someone who is still irreversibly alive, much more alive than some members of the political establishment who continue to prove on a daily basis that they are more dead than alive.
APN: How do you see the role of Lebanese journalists today? MHG: Their mission is not obvious. The last two years have seen the degeneration of the political discourse to the point where people are rejoicing at the assassination of the other side's leaders. Unfortunately the media are polarised, and line up along this political divide. It is high time the press played a role in supporting reconciliation in Lebanon, and stopped giving a helping hand to this stupid escalation and to the resurgence of populism, which is a threat to democracy.
It is the role of the media to transcend communitarian attitudes and to cross those divides, but they do not always manage to do that. There is no free press in the Lebanon, just free journalists and I think this is the case in the whole Arab world. Today's challenge is to protect the gains of the Beirut Spring that Gebran Tueni, Samir Kassir (editor's note: a Lebanese journalist assassinated in June 2005) and others died for.
APN: What is your view of the Arab press today? MHG: It is not in a very encouraging state. In saying that, I am thinking of Samir Kassir. I think we should all read and reread his book Being Arab (Verso, London 2006). The book is a beacon for the future. Samir Kassir, who was my tutor at the Saint-Joseph University, died for this renaissance. And who, other than the press, can breathe life into this renaissance on the scale of the Arab world as a whole, marked as it is by too much despotism, lack of freedom and fossilization of ideas. It is time for a wind of modernity to blow and for lamentations to cease.