May Chidiac: In Lebanon there is a lot of freedom but little democracy, so… no, they are not so free, not any more. They used to be free. But you have to take into consideration the owners and the shareholders; you have to respect their own policy.If [a paper or a TV station] was created by a political party, you have to respect the target of this party and work to help them reach their goals. But if you are just in a commercial TV [station], sometimes they try to respect objectivity, because they want to be reached by everyone in the country, because the audience makes the advertising, and this is how it goes.So, in Lebanon, no, there is not a lot of objectivity, but we are trying as much as we can to be objective. To be neutral, I can assure you, is really difficult, especially in Lebanon, because we are really politicized. You eat politics, you drink politics, you breathe politics – It’s in our blood.
I have my point of view; I am politicized… and everyone knows I’m pro-March 14, so I’m doing my best on the screen, but when I’m off the screen, I think I’m free to say whatever I believe in.
NOW: Lebanon is known for its press freedom. Do you think Lebanese media and press can be an example for neighboring Arab countries?
Chidiac: In many of the Arab countries… you don’t have private TV [stations], which are supposed to handle political issues; most of these political TV [stations] are owned by the state, so you cannot talk about democracy, freedom or liberty of expression.
This is why we’re an example in the Arab world. We can’t complain all the time in Lebanon that we don’t have so much freedom – no, we have freedom, and I was able to express myself so freely that in the end I had to pay the price. This is what I said at the beginning: We have freedom but we don’t have democracy, because they make you pay the price in the end, especially when we were under Syrian hegemony.
NOW: All the local stations in Lebanon can say whatever they want, but they don’t because they are part of a party or group. Don’t you think it’s the same?
Chidiac: Here, they manipulate audiences. Even LBC, when it opened in 1985, it was a tool for the Lebanese Forces – I’m preparing my PhD on the impact of politics on the Lebanese television scene. At that time – even before ‘85 when it was founded, when the idea came to Bachir Gemayel, before he became president – they wanted to defend themselves against the Palestinians, who were really manipulating the media at that time.
Even in the eyes of the occidental viewer, they [the Palestinians] used to look like victims, when the Christians were [portrayed as] the criminals. And at LBC, they wanted to change this view, and at that time they had to learn how to also influence the public opinion, and this is why it was created. But after a certain time, and after all that we’ve been through at LBC, now it changed. It doesn’t belong to one way or another.
So, this is why I can tell you nowadays that LBC is the most objective media in Lebanon, actually.
NOW: Did you feel that the assassination attempt limited or increased your courage?
Chidiac: It increased it…
NOW: When you emerged from this experience, were you able to offer an example for your colleagues? Did you sense more or less auto-censorship and that your colleagues were more afraid of going through the same experience?
Chidiac: I felt it, but I was the most courageous one between them. When I used to challenge the Syrian occupation over Lebanon, I don’t think they dared doing the same thing. When they chose me, they didn’t randomly choose me, they could have chosen anyone else; they wanted to reach LBC, and they wanted to reach a representative of Christians and journalists. Through me, they wanted to send a lot of messages at the same time. Why did they choose me? Because they were really upset with me. They tried to put pressure on me, but it was not successful. I think that the others didn’t have the same courage as I did… But after the attack, I think they succeeded in neutralizing a lot of them, many of them, not all of them.
NOW: Some say that you still support the Lebanese Forces. Where do you see yourself today, politically?
Chidiac: I am pro-14 March, and pro-Lebanese Forces, and proud to be. I have believed in this cause since I was a child. I was born in Gemmayzeh in Beirut where the war started, therefore I couldn’t help but be influenced by the impact of Bachir Gemayel and the Kataeb at that time.
I didn’t choose to be into politics, I started to be into politics maybe after I worked in LBC for so many years, and it was a choice. I was not a member of the party at any time and I am still not, but I was against oppression, and I couldn’t accept the fact that just this community has to pay the price for all the wars in Lebanon. The difference between me and some other journalists is that I have the courage to express my political tendencies off-air, but in the program I’m a real professional, and I keep in mind that my duty is to defend the independence of my country.
NOW: There was talk about you running in the 2005 by-elections in Aley to replace Edmond Naim. How accurate was that, and would you consider running in the next parliamentary elections yet?
Chidiac: I don’t have an answer yet; I will consider it when the issue will come. For the time being, I am so pleased with what I’m doing with my program. I can’t tell you, it depends on the law, the conditions, the proposals, the criteria. Now I’m not ready because everything should be in its time. But it doesn’t mean that I’m not thinking or taking it into consideration anymore, but at that time when I presented myself for the by-election in Baabda-Aley, it was just because I felt that I wanted to say that I was still here.
NOW: Let’s assume that you were elected to such a position, how would you balance journalism and politics?
Chidiac: I think that if it did happen, maybe I would continue teaching at the university. This is why I’ve been working on my PhD now; I’ve been teaching for ten years. You cannot be a journalist and an MP at the same time. Maybe you can write editorials, but you cannot be an anchor or conduct the type of work that I’m doing right now. It’s impossible.
NOW: How did the Cedar Revolution change you, and do you feel that it’s failed some people in certain ways?
Chidiac: Yes, I do. I wonder: is the revolution worth all this suffering? The Cedar Revolution is eating its children. All these sacrifices are for what? If we will not reach any goal at the end, if the Syrians will win in one way or another, that will mean that all this blood would have been for nothing. When I think about Gibran, about Pierre – we were from the same group – I become crazy. When I am with some friends some times, I feel that they forget about them, because life continues. Life goes on. For me, it is not the same. I am still suffering, and I know what they went through, I do not want all of these sacrifices to be for nothing.