IWMF Celebrates May Chidiac’s Courage

June 8 2012 | 10:43 AM

Dr. May Chidiac was awarded the Courage in Journalism Award in 2006 by the International Women’s Media Foundation. Click the link to the read the full article

IWMF Interview Questions

  1. How would you describe the significance of winning the Courage in Journalism award? What did this award mean to you?

Such worldwide recognition meant a lot to me, especially since a year earlier, a killing attempt had cost me my left arm and leg. In spite of that, I continued working as both a journalist and a TV presenter of a political talk show. It was actually quite a challenge, but the fact that I had been asked to visit countries where journalists, who had gone through similar challenges, was truly inspirational and life-changing. I understood what being boldly defiant meant. It is also indispensable for me to say that the benefits have outweighed the costs. I, along with my fellow colleagues who had given their lives in the fight against terror, have proven that the truth will always thrash death.

  1. Have you ever considered leaving Lebanon? Why did you choose to stay?

I was born in Lebanon; I was present all throughout its intense decades’ long civil war. I received more than ten offers to move abroad, actually, I left for a year and a half in 1990. I was very appreciative towards the opportunity, yet with the passing of each day, my longing for Lebanon had grown stronger. In addition, networks in Arab countries proposed several offers to me, yet I refused one after the other, for leaving Lebanon could not be any harder for me. Honestly, I couldn’t be estranged to my history, or my identity. We, as Lebanese, have endured many attempts by different foreign military forces to bring us down to our knees. We stood tall, asserted that Lebanon is for the Lebanese. We had our peaceful Cedar Revolution in 2005, one that many Arab countries witnessed and have claimed presently that it is still their inspiration. We overcame the difficulties and the numerous attempts to eliminate us. Staying here and defending those principals remain our choice and our mission.

  1. What drove you to continue your work as a journalist in Lebanon following the attack? How seriously did you take the death threats you received after you resumed reporting? Are you still concerned for your safety?

Stopping my work as a journalist would have meant granting my attackers the satisfaction of silencing me. Resuming work was my own way of proving them otherwise. I had to be the voice of my colleagues, of those who had lost their lives in the journey towards liberty and independence in 2005. The numerous death threats I encountered were proof of my attacker’s fear and annoyance towards freedom of expression. I was even threatened directly, in an attempt of forcing me to quit pointing fingers towards those who are the true malingerers in Lebanon. Thus, I don’t know how to be afraid, I have already lost half of my body, and I wouldn’t mind losing the other half, or even my life for that matter, in defiance for an unjust reality. In fact, my family and my country are my only concerns.

  1. You received incredible public support following the assassination attempt and upon your return to Lebanon. Do you think the public outrage against your attackers helped to foster a sense of solidarity across the political spectrum? More generally, what do you think the impact of your work has been in Lebanon? Do you feel a sense of accomplishment?  

Generally speaking, the Lebanese people as a whole had been incredibly caught off guard following the assassination attempt on my life, yet what added fuel to the fire was the fact that I was the first woman who had been targeted in the series of terrorist attacks. Even politicians who had opposing convictions were shocked by my killing attempt, specifically after everyone had been accustomed to watching me on their TV screens for a period of 20 years. There had become two rival camps, March 8th and 14th, my guests were supporters of one or the other, and I symbolized what one was fighting against.

  1. Did you leave your LBC show “Bi Kol Jor’a” in 2009 due to threats or intimidation?

They were without a question among the primary reasons, yet I specifically declared while I was on air that my show had to be halted for a simple reason: Dealing with politicians in Lebanon became appalling, as well as the fact that I was not comfortable with the entire media atmosphere during that period, and I was not able to do my job properly in the face of such pressuring difficulties. This also includes the TV network I was working for. Consequently, I preferred to step down and return in better conditions. I prefer for the time being to be received as a guest and expert on different TV shows aired on various channels. It gives me the opportunity to express myself freely in explaining the importance of the STL indictments as the only way to put an end to impunity, in a country that witnessed for decades Killing assassinations that targeted prominent figures, including two presidential candidates.

  1. Can you tell me a bit about your current projects, including your post at Notre Dame University, your work with UNESCO’s High Panel on Peace and Dialogue among cultures, and the foundation that you founded?

I have been teaching Journalism at Notre Dame University since 1999, and I currently hold the position of a Professor at the Mass Communication Department in the Faculty of Humanities. In 2009, shortly after I announced that I will no longer host ”Bikol Joraa,” I established the May Chidiac for Freedom of Speech Foundation in New York, an organization which dedicates itself to demonstrating support and opportunities to individuals interested in pursuing careers in Journalism, and to promote freedom of expression in Lebanon and the region. Also I founded on the second anniversary of the assassination attempt the : May Chidiac Foundation- Media Institute( MCF- MI) located in Lebanon, it is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that bridges the gap between academia and media industry. It is mainly dedicated to research and education on issues of Media concerning Press, Democracy, and Social Welfare. Providing workshops, lectures, trainings in all Media fields (TV, Radio, Journalism) targeting fresh graduates in communication arts. On the 18th of February, 2010, I participated in the conference which included important guests from numerous countries, including the Bosnian Imam and Catholic Bishops. My role was important because I came from Lebanon; a country where even John Paul 2 claimed is “more than a country, it is a message”. Lebanon had faced turbulence on many levels, yet that is what contributed to the trajectory towards peaceful dialogue. It especially proved to have done so in light of alarming issues, such as the Islamic Extremism and Christian extremism reflected by the recent bombing of Norway.

  1. You previously considered entering politics, but decided to focus on your continued rehabilitation and other projects instead. Do you have any plans to run for office in the future?

I have always regarded myself as a journalist transmitting the voice of the people; this has been my task, my aim, and my motive. It is true that I have previously considered entering politics, but only in the aim of continuing what was I doing as a journalist: expressing what reflects my values and truly representing the people. I have opted to focus on personal rehabilitation and projects, mainly the May Chidiac Media Institute. When it comes to entering politics, the ambition is still the same: What is the best way to make the people’s voice heard? Do they want me to represent them as a member of the parliament? Do I feel that, by going into politics, I would be able to offer them more assistance than staying out of it? If the answer to all these questions is a definite YES, then I would consider going into politics.

  1. What is your perspective on the UN Special Tribunal’s recent indictment of Prime Minister Hariri’s suspected assassins?

In a country that has been always traumatized with political and opinion-based assassinations, it brings us great joy to finally see a tribunal that is going all the way in the aim of finding the truth and implicating justice on people who have never been deterred from harming others just for differences in opinions, or simply because they refused to comply to despotism and hegemony. The indictment is not an irrevocable judgment, but to drive the suspects – whoever they are – to go to trial and defend themselves if they are convinced that they are innocent. They should not wander freely and refuse to hand themselves in ‘even after 300 years’ (Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah mentioned this during a speech)

  1. Do you think your own attackers will ever be brought to justice?

It would be a dream come true, which will bring back joy to my heart. I carry the consequences of the attack against me wherever I go: They are present when I work, they follow me to every social event I attend, and they are even there when I am in my own home. I will never forget what happened to me, but knowing that the person or people who have done this to me are behind bars, not being able to inflict pain on others, will at least ease a smidge of my pain. Needless to say, that is the case for the rest of the martyrs’ that had given their lives in return of their freedom, they were all close friends. On their behalf as well as mine, I am excitingly happy to say the truth is almost here.

  1. What are your hopes for the future of Lebanon? What effect, if any, do you think the ongoing uprisings in Syria will have on Lebanon?

I always picture Lebanon being better than it is, the country that refused and always endured the many storms that had tried and keep doing so in an attempt to break it. For me Lebanon is a story of constant battles of hope, of struggle for better days, of fighting many of the hideous obstacles that try to stand in the way of its freedom and prosperity. When it comes to Syria, it is almost inevitable for its situation to affect Lebanon one way or the other. The two neighboring countries are geographically related, and thus any event is likely to have a certain influence. What I sincerely aspire for is that the Syrian people can soon be able to enjoy the democracy we as Lebanese know. I have always been against the Syrian regime that had constantly interfered in Lebanese affairs and attempted to change the Lebanese system so as to control it along its own.

  1. What is the current status of the media in Lebanon?

Lebanese media has throughout history been a pioneer in the region, especially when it comes to its wide range of freedom and diversity. Many journalists have been harassed because their legitimate right to speak was considered a slap to others. Some were assassinated, others were injured, and many fled the country. Others were especially forced or driven out of their jobs because they had refused to commit to the networks’ mood swings. The fight continues, along with the struggle to overcome many difficulties, first of which is the financial constraints that media institutions face in Lebanon, especially if they were not supported by political ‘projects’ and organizations, or what has become to be known as ‘Political Money’. Another task to tackle is the liaison between the media and the people, the first has become too politically-oriented, whereas the second is shifting towards interest in their day-to-day needs, to which media is forced to adopt and make more effort in supporting. Unfortunately, the political issues are too complicated and conspicuous to give the people their complete and unlimited attention and time, especially with the presence of a strong division in certain Lebanese affairs that threaten its stability.

  1. How would you characterize the role of women in media in the Middle East? Do you belong to any regional networks of female journalists?

In numerous institutions across the Middle East, we have seen women rise to important posts in the hierarchy of the media organizations. But rarely has a woman been seen on top of the hierarchy: There’s always a man ‘on top’. I have participated in activities concerning women in media, yet the ones in particular were advocating for women’s rights. They are, to be specific, the fight in giving women the right to pass on their Lebanese nationality to their children. That in addition to allowing women to vote in the parliamentary law that permits domestic abuse on the basis of religious grounds. However, other than the previously mentioned, I do not belong to any female network of journalists.

  1. Finally, is there any advice you would like to share with our current Courage in Journalism Award winners and other female journalists working in dangerous circumstances?

To all journalists in different parts of the world, being free is the essence of their presence. Many have tried to subject us to what they believe in… they evidently succeeded in failing. We either breathe freedom or die defending the people’s right to enjoy it. This is our duty, whether in Lebanon, the Arab World, or any area where conflict resides. No circumstance is more dangerous than imposing authoritarianism on people who were born to be free. We are their voice, their call for prosper living, their tool towards a better future. Without them we are nothing, without their freedom, we fail. It is indispensable for the world to know that the truth, although somewhat costly, is incredibly valuable in its outcome.

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