Publications disappearing from newsstands, radio and TV channels struggling to stay on air: Lebanon’s once-flourishing media is collapsing under the weight of the worst economic crisis in decades.
The Daily Star, Lebanon’s only English-language newspaper, which suspended its print edition on Tuesday, is the latest casualty.
The suspension comes shortly after the English-language Radio One broadcaster went off air at the weekend after nearly four decades.
Due to funding shortages, a series of prominent dailies and broadcasters in Lebanon have disappeared, undermining the nation’s regional reputation as a media hub.
The situation has become more dire as Lebanon struggles with a wide-reaching recession, and a spiraling financial crunch exacerbated by political turmoil and mass protests.
To keep their heads above water, surviving organizations have had to slash salaries and lay off employees. Some have stopped paying salaries all together.
“We haven’t been paid in five months,” said an employee at the nation’s oldest newspaper, An-Nahar, asking not to be named to protect his job.
The Daily Star announced on its Web site the temporary halt of the printing presses was a result of the economic downturn.
It cited “the financial challenges facing the Lebanese press, which have been exacerbated by the deterioration of the economic situation in the country.”
It said the temporary suspension came after “a drop to virtually no advertising revenue in the last quarter of 2019, as well as in January of this year.”
Employees at the newspaper had complained of not being paid, with one departing journalist in December last year saying that some were owed up to six months’ wages.
The outlet is to continue to publish content on its Web site and social media pages.
The Daily Star was founded in 1952 by Kamel Mroue, then owner and editor-in-chief of the pan-Arab Al-Hayat daily.
The newspaper was bought by businessmen close to former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri in 2010 and is co-owned by Hariri’s family, according to a report on media ownership in Lebanon by the Samir Kassir Foundation and Reporters Without Borders.
The Daily Star is just the latest media outlet linked to the former prime minister to be struggling.
In September last year, Hariri announced the suspension of Future TV, his ailing mouthpiece whose employees had been on strike over unpaid wages.
In January last year, the Hariri-linked Al-Mustaqbal newspaper issued its last print version, 20 years after it was established, though it, too, maintains a presence online.
Saudi Oger, a once-mighty construction firm that was the basis of the Hariri business empire, collapsed in 2017, leaving thousands jobless.
Hariri stepped down as prime minister in late October last year under pressure from unprecedented nationwide protests against alleged official corruption and ineptitude.
The Daily Star had published a newsless black issue to protest the political and economic crises gripping the nation. The economic situation has since deteriorated further.
The downturn has left no sector unscathed, starving publications of advertising revenue and traditional sources of funding.
L’Hebdo Magazine, a French-language publication established in 1956, printed its final issue in December last year because of a drop in advertisement revenue, a former employee said.
“Our advertisers were mainly banks and insurance companies,” the former employee said, asking not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Lebanon’s media landscape is rife with privately owned papers affiliated with at least one of the nation’s many political parties, who are often the primary source of funding.
Samir Kassir Foundation director Ayman Mhanna said that the economic blow underscored the need for a diverse funding pool.
“The problem is primarily structural, but the current crisis has accelerated” closures, Mhanna said.
He added that Lebanese media is usually funded by political groups and a “limited local advertising market.”
“It is time for the Lebanese press to rethink its economic model,” he said. “This crisis must be an opportunity to do so.”
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