Media and Language Policy Research

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A university research about the effect of media and language policy on journalists and the public.




 This research places an overview of the media language in post-2006 period over Lebanon, conveying an analysis and discussion in a theoretical aspect. The study defines, in accordance to its objective, the influence of media policy over the outlet’s language to the crowd, where ethics, as well, are criteria that maybe involved at some points and denied at others, and the reaction of the crowd towards the material received, interpreted by Social Sciences and proven by tangible facts and data such as news articles.

It also consists of several interviews with Lebanese journalists, editors, and MENA (Middle East and North Africa) correspondents from international news outlets. As well as informal talks occurring in seminars/workshops/lectures relevant to the media language change, and the way it caused the rise of certain stereotypes while deleting others.




Language has always been a basis of communication, while as Lebanon’s position on the map claims that it was an asset for communicating with the exterior world.

The historical evolution of Lebanon has helped it gain certain geographical and demographical privileges and characteristics, which made the small country, open to many aspects.

Different cultures have stepped in and lived side by side with the natives to observe nowadays a mixture of civilizations, which gave Lebanon a special taste of difference and uniqueness. Thus instead of saying Lebanon is an Arab country, the constitution refers to it as a country with Arab features… This means that it had other features alongside its Arabian one that was taken into consideration into its political structure, as well as dealing with its internal and global affairs.

In the process defining a language, communication stays a stable characteristic. One finds under its umbrella the terms: informing, corresponding, and reporting. The latter is most commonly used for media studies according to an academic, Dr. Salem al-Maa’oush, instructor at the Lebanese University’s fifth sector’s Sciences and Literature faculty in Saida, during an analytical-critical lecture about language usage in radio and TV in Lebanon.

But media language has certain specialties, and it differs with the communication channel’s audience. For example, written news outlets are controlled by its audience; it resembles the echo of their thoughts, ideology, and tastes. However, the example doesn’t apply to audiovisual means, since the technological aspects doesn’t grant the viewer/listener the ability to control the content.

Media language doesn’t stand in the same shoes as literary language (a common misconception), where the difference between both types of communications is that media or journalism is a profession, while literature is an art; as Algerian writer and journalist Omar Bou-Shmoukha placed it.

Meaning that a writer’s method is letting the information or writings come out from within, such that one should find what he/she should say, and then would define its artistic structure that fits one’s perception. While as in journalism, the outside world is the reason of the reporter’s writings; meaning that the events itself bounds the journalist of what to say and the manner in saying it.

Media language is an audience-related communication, thus the words and signs used should match the level of understanding of the viewer. This obliges the journalist to escape the usage of difficult content, agitating words, and connotations, which their application would leave the receiver in deciphering the message’s elements.

Assertions have been made for the connection between language and ideology; this resulted from the usage or presence of certain words in the context of reporting, that may be traced back to a fixed concept of the audience’s ideology; thus a theory of the meaning of a linguistic form and its relation to an experience is formed.

In general, media language should contain every journalist’s code of ethics, taught during his profession: consistency, objectivity, balance, and accuracy. It should be simple, direct, and consumable by the receiver; but that’s mostly closer to abstract than reality. “The error”, wrote J. Herbert Altschull in his seminal work on the power of media “is to fail to recognize that the news media are agencies of someone else’s power.” Meaning that media policy has great influence over an outlet’s flow, language, and choice of information exposed or displayed.

Due to Lebanon’s position in the Middle East, certain regional interventions are not out of mind. Regardless of the sectarian division that was already observed by the public due to the assassination of former PM Rafik Hariri on February 14th 2005. Israel launched an aggression over Lebanon on the 13th of July 2006 after Hezbollah, a political and basis of the Islamic resistance in Lebanon; had killed three Israeli soldiers and apprehended two others. Media wise, the war of TV channels and appearance on them made Hezbollah a winner, where media became a very efficient weapon in military arsenal.


Literature Review:


Media has a new language that was born in the mass communication channels womb; it has produced a special way of conversing a dialect that doesn’t separate from the time and place of the culture. It has now become dominated by time’s authority and imprisoned by its events and happenings, where one finds, for example, that vocabulary and terms are born and dead through the on goings, whether historical or media related.

This notion refers to the terms that were used during the war of 2006 over Lebanon period by several news outlets, such as: Flaming axes, aggression, guerrilla war, militia, and refugee… Societal media (not social media) kept on utilizing such expressions to make them as war-norms among people, language-wise.

As mentioned before, language policy is related to media policy; Bou-Shmoukha theorizes the concept of policy:

“Policy”, being considered a governing system, relies on the notion of “divine right”… An individual, according to this concept, when he/she is not overseen by a government or society, will become an ignorant beast that doesn’t know his/her own welfare, and can’t prove his/her existence nor achieve goals unless governed by higher authority. Thus they have given the ruling class the right to “monopolize” any one of them; meaning that they are the only ones to dominate other members of the society.

In accordance to the previously placed theory, media has gained a lot of restraints. One of them, according Bou-Shmoukh, is censorship; governing system (or the owner) practices strong censorship over certain subjects or matters, if the editors or journalists didn’t abide by the rules and regulations of the higher policy. This act would also move towards political and religious issues. Jordanian journalist, Sameh al-Mahariq, was quoted in the book: “The New Arab Journalist” saying: “As long as you don’t write about the king, the military, religion, or sex, you can cover anything you want.”

Bou-Shmoukha argues a second limitation for journalists and media outlets, as a whole, which is buying the channel. He believes that the authority takes this step as a last resort; it obliges the outlet to give total allegiance to the owner, in order to broadcast and advertise for its policy and agrees on all its practices. Taher elMardi, Al-Jazeera Khartoum correspondent, was quoted in an interview about the influence of media policy on media language during the coverage of the Darfur conflict by the end of 2008:”There’s a very thin line between a professional journalist and a political person.”

“Wa’ii” (awareness) Center for Social and Political Rights issued an explanation, written by Al-Ahram and Reuter’s journalist Muhammad Taieh, entitled: “The Effects of Media Channel on the Individual and Society between Guidance, Analysis for Awareness, and Education”.

In short, the author explains that media tools are of greater power than ever before, mostly in a negative way; the conclusion is derived from the political control over broadcasting channels, where they’re shifted to be working as Public Relations agents for the governing class. Taieh places several researched theories that categorize the bad effect of media control:

–         Collapse of the general cultural taste

–         Increase in the levels of carelessness and illegal acts

–         Assistance in the fall down of ethics

–         Supporting the notion of : Political Shallowness (meaning that the audience would take politics on a denoted level, where critical thinking becomes scarce)

In the process of his research, Muhammad Taieh explains:

In this situation, media becomes eluding and aims to spread false awareness. Lies and mysterious news would reach the public, which creates the opportunity to promote rumors and brain-washing ideas that only aid the governor; like what Goebbels (Nazi Propaganda Minister) did. 

News outlets have become an agent for authority, whether internal or political, mostly both are the same, which creates conflicts among the people’s class and perpetuating stereotypes of each other. The policy can be internationally driven, as IREX, a US-based nonprofit organization committed to international education in academic research, concluded in its Media Sustainability Index:

Money available for media business investment has allowed outlets to better professionalize and access to new technologies… but… These oil-rich countries have demonstrated the ability to develop a media industry without loosening press freedoms beyond points they threaten the governing monarchies and regimes of the region.

Thomas McFadden, former US diplomat in Beirut carried out a survey for journalists in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt in 1951 and 1952. He concluded five priorities of Arab journalists:

–         To fight against imperialism

–         To fight against Zionism

–         To fight for Arab nationalism and unity

–         To fight against government corruption and weakness

–         To fight for the reform, modernization, and democratization of Arab society





 In the process of the research, in depth interviews with several experienced journalists were made such as Daoud Ibrahim, Ahmad Hissou, and Christopher Harper. Expert analysis was conveyed by former minister of information Mr. Tarek Metri, to share his knowledge on the situation that’s concerned with media policy and media language. Interviews also include junior journalists so they’d include their opinions and experiences in the matter; whether via email, personal interviews, or online questionnaires.

The research’s procedure took also quotations from local and international seminars and lectures done by former politicians, media trainers, journalists, and media experts, where the researcher has attended them.

Two case studies are presented where one includes the effect of media policy on media channels and the second contains a comparison between two newspapers handling the same subject in two different approaches and report style.

Also providing three figures; one for the process of news from source to public, and two related to the second case study (two newspapers).

A third type of interview done, other than the in depth with experts and journalists, was with a social scientist in order to reach the result of the effect of media policy and language policy on both, journalists and the public.

Note: In order to convey the results of the research in an easier manner; experts’ quotations were analyzed and interpreted in the same section.

Qualitative Research:


  This section will present the influence of media policy on language choice in written and audiovisual media channels. With respect to the research construct, the qualitative analysis would be considered the proper method to study the placed theory, since the expert examination of the issue would be a basis for the research construct. This section also analyzes case studies of certain articles and occurrences that are valid for theoretical interpretation. Journalists and media personnel would be as specialist involvement and at the same time experienced people, in the sense that media policy affects directly the journalists of the media outlet.

Case Study I:

 In 2011, The Lebanese newspaper, Al-Akhbar, reported that the “Journalists without Borders” issued a classification for countries in relevance for freedom of the press. Lebanon moved from 78th to 93rd which is rather a surprising and strange reality; the organization said that the main reason for the decline is effectiveness of the Syrian revolution to the Lebanese status.

Strangely enough, the Arab Spring revolutions are already claiming freedom and democracy, but the JWB’s report stated that “The Lebanese government is cooperating with the Syrian regime to arrest Syrian bloggers and journalists that are against the governing system on Lebanese territory.”

Layal Haddad, writer of the article, argues that the international organization didn’t name one situation where opposing journalists and bloggers were persecuted in Lebanon, in addition to the fact that none of the Lebanese local media outlets have reported such as thing. But there was an investigation that included “the kidnapping and disappearance of Syrian activists and opposes,” as it came in the broadcast of “unsafe sanctuary” that was made by Diana Moukalled for Future TV, an anti-Syrian regime media channel.


JWB follows a process that relies on sending surveys to 18 institutions, concerned with press freedom, around the globe. JWB also contacts its international correspondents and a group of journalists and legal personnel, in order to build its annual report that covers 179 countries.

The report questions the organization’s credibility and professionalism; as Haddad asks: “Did the organization communicate with all points of views, or does it simply rely on cooperating with journalists and institutions that are of one perception?”

In such reality, major media institutes, in this case JWB, have become closer to working as PR firms for global policies. Where, according to a university instructor in the Communication department, media outlets prefer things over others with respect to their policy, concluding that the story beats credibility.

AltCity-Beirut hosted a lecture by top journalists and activists entitled: “Investigative Journalism in the Age of Digital Media” in 2011. Christopher Harper, professor at Temple University and Beirut and Cairo bureau chief for Newsweek and ABC News respectively, stated that “people will follow whoever is in power” adding that journalists lately are thinking in a manner that “they don’t care what they’re interested in, they’re writing what their leaders and viewers would like to read… it’s not about writing the big stories, it’s more of the people’s voice… they just tell the story once and never go back to it.”

A code of conduct, or the journalist’s code of ethics, is no longer a boundary for reporter. Harper claims that:

Internal policies are critically important. There are no licenses for journalists or tests for professionalism such as doctors, lawyers, or even barbers. Also, national codes, like, are not binding on journalists. Thus, a journalist cannot be expelled for violating the code, but internal codes have been used to punish or fire journalists.

Daoud Ibrahim, journalism instructor and investigative journalism trainer, said on the other hand that internal policy “is a must, because after all there’s the view of every media and its style.”  Nevertheless, media policy remained, at certain points, the cause for ethical conflicts among journalists.

The reason for that is “when you have information and your media outlet won’t use it because it affects the whole credibility and policy towards some topics” Daoud explains. He adds to his point of view that the media channel would ask the journalist to handle a specific issue in a certain way that would “leave the journalists in a bad situation, where they would be telling fake or biased news.”

Media policy is not only driven by internal management. For most of the time political involvement is the catalyst. President of the Public’s Movement, former parliament member Mr. Najah Wakim, explained, in a seminar held in Beirut about the role of journalism in erasing sectarianism, that the media reality is part of the Lebanese governing reality, because “the political corruption is preceded by media corruption.”

Media tools in Lebanon, unfortunately, have become a secular provocative for the people, and the channel is the journalist. Criticizing this fact at the seminar was Dr. Sarkis abou Zaid, director of the Civil Institution for Banishing Secularism, when referring to journalists as “becoming spokesmen for the owning company rather than being a critic and media person” while participant Sa’ed Allah Mazraa’ni, member of the Lebanese communist party’s political bureau, adds that journalists “ignore one issue for the sake of the other.”

Former minister of Information, Mr. Tarek Metri, sums it up when referring to Lebanese media as “a representative of political or religious parties.” This is not only found in Lebanon, as Metri acknowledged. Ghassan Ben Jeddo, former Beirut chief bureau of Al-Jazeera, left the Arab media giant because “his own code of ethics was different than Al-Jazeera’s.”

Most Arab journalists were to pressures that ranged from subtle political “guidance” to threats of imprisonment and death, as the assassinations, such as Samir Kassir and Jubran Tueni of the Lebanese Annahar newspaper, and attempted assassinations, such as Mai Chidiac – a leading Lebanese television anchor – of journalists in Lebanon so vividly demonstrated.

Metri argues that ever since the end of World War II, government control has been a hallmark of media in Arab countries, where the regime’s monopoly over news organization was abundant, until it became a norm nowadays: “News organizations were and are mouthpieces for the governments and political movements, and the media is traditionally viewed with suspicion and little respect.”

Case Study II:

On the 1st of June 2012, Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, gave a speech in the 23rd commemoration of the founder of the Islamic Republic in Iran, Imam al-Khoumaini, at the UNESCO palace in Beirut. The speech involved subjects such the Lebanese kidnapped by the Free Syrian Army, the Palestinian conflict, the political dilemma, and the security status in the country. And at the same day, Lebanese president, Michel Sleiman, visited the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

There were articles and reports on this speech as much as Lebanon has news outlets, local and international. Newspapers, for example, took different perspectives, where some focused on the speech itself, while others focused on the political day and included the speech.

Two Lebanese newspapers were selected: Assafir (pro-Hezbollah) and Al-Mustaqbal (anti-Hezbollah). The two newspapers have placed their report in the following manner:


–         The headline was concerned with the political dilemma that opposes the Al-Mustaqbal’s owner, Sa’ed al Hariri, point of view.

–         The photo used was of the meeting between the president and the king of KSA

–         The article focused more on meeting and included Sa’ed al Hariri in it

–         The article was mostly concerned about internal politics


–         The headline was concerned with kidnapped Lebanese

–         The photo was of the event in UNESCO

–         The article focused on the happenings of the event

–         The KSA meeting was not mentioned

Photos provided on last pages

There’s no argument that the media policy is the number one cause for the choice of headline, but media policy also drives language policy. The concept is derived from the importance of the public to the outlet. Journalist, Ahmad Hassan, shared his opinion in defining the usage of language and words in media outlets:

When we are talking about media and their language in specific, then we are talking about media ethics that are, besides the laws, working for the sake of the public, since it is who we inform and communicating with. But we have to be aware of what language we use, as well as the educational level of the subjects and the ethical elements… To gain better communication, we need to choose our words carefully so not to offend the audience. This is the most important thing to media channels.

The journalist’s framework relies on the audience itself. Allen Bell designed a graph showing the process of placing the news that starts from the source to the public (On last pages). With that procedure, journalists face a lot of dilemmas in their news reports. It’s known that the journalistic performance relies on three aspects: Objectivity, balance, and accuracy. The media person works on finding the truth – with a capital “T” – of the news source and transfers it to the public. But one additional part, which actually overcomes the three others, is following the media policy.

Christopher Harper explains that the power of language and its usage which would drive people’s behavior towards certain issues, “for example, the use of the word terrorist is much more negative while guerrilla and freedom fighter is much more positive”.

That power was marked during the Israeli aggression over Lebanon in 2006, where it was believed Lebanese and Arab TV stations were also at a war against Zionist media outlets. Daoud Ibrahim marks that “when the leader of Hezbollah declared on air targeting and destroying the Israeli battleship, that feeling of victory spread all over the country. When the people saw the news of the Qana massacre, they felt anger and were ready to destroy anything in their way.”

It’s now a norm that media has become a new war arsenal, for weapons were mostly artillery and guns, sometimes politics, but lately information and media have become as important as the battle field itself. That can be a key at warfare, but this also means that media has gained power and lost professionalism.

News outlets are smacking each other indirectly, sometimes directly like the issue that happened between NewTV, a Lebanese leading TV station, and Addonia TV; a government-owned Syrian TV, after the death of NewTV’s assistant cameraman, Ali Shaaban, due to acts of shooting on the channel’s car in the Northern region of Lebanon.

“The political stature grants licenses for media outlets, where their capital and funding are either political or from abroad” Ameen Saleh, member of the Civil Committee for Fighting Secularism, said during the seminar about the role of journalism in erasing sectarianism in 2011.

The dilemma of Lebanese media channels is political and religious control. Abed al Hadi Mahmoud, administrator of the National News Agency NNA, said at the same seminar: “Geographically, all media outlets are in their territory, with their own audience,” while Mohammad Mohsen, news editor at al-Manar TV, adds that “money rules mind and media.” And between the two quotations lies the determination of language usage.

The process of language policy is identified by which the organization controls the context and censors the unwanted/unacceptable content. Thus proving the notion that Tarek Metri has placed before when saying that “news organizations are mouthpieces for the governments and political movements.”

This fear or self-censorship for journalists is considered to be the toughest, since censoring journalists’ reports or parts of them means that information is being hidden from the public. But on the other hand, “media is what you are” Mohsen of al-Manar says, meaning that “the public asks for some censorship of news because their followed media outlet had them used to the provided content” explain Mr. Kassem Kalout, holder of Social Sciences and Psychology degrees and administrator of al-Mustapha School in Haret Houreik.

It’s by our instinct to rule and be ruled, we claim that we’re trying to reach freedom while we subconsciously pledge for higher control. We can’t afford to live unbounded or else we’ll be killing each other. But at the same time, we kill each other for control. It’s the administration and government’s role to regulate ethics and conducts in order to keep control of its subjects and reach its goals.

Excellent journalists have core values running through them and they instinctively know that there are two sides for every story. “I can push freedom to its limit while writing, but there’s a wind blowing against me” Metri says “we’re proud of this margin of freedom that we have; we should also upgrade it ethically. But then we would censor ourselves.”

In a seminar entitled: “Digital Media for Citizen Journalism” implemented in AltCity, event presenter Ali Ghamloush, journalist at, noted that “There are things not to be published which are bad language, collision of interests, lies, and information of no reference.”

Journalists have to a point that the media policy is their main source of information; this leaves journalists “focusing on being paid, they just make a voxpop and leave” Julnar Doeik, Arabic editor of, explained the status quo of media personnel lately.

“The internal censors of the journalists have led them to belittle their job as change agents and civil catalysts” Kalout notes, “all what they are looking for in their reports now is pleasing the editor, which in turn pleases the owner”. The manner dilemma that censorship and self-censorship has created for journalists is conveying only part of the truth.

The notion of the “opinion and counter-opinion” has become an abstract belief and a banner that they hold in the face of who opposes their ideas. But “deep inside, they know that they’re not screening the full story, just what the higher command wants to show its public. It’s not journalism anymore; it’s a wide PR campaign” Kalout says.

Menwal al Ahrad, Moroccan reporter for the national television, said in a side chat during a seminar implemented by the ICFJ (International Center for Journalists) in Jordan, that there are “hidden forces to manipulate free, almost free, media, we forgot how to claim a right, so we prefer taking the easy way and follow the cash and social statuses.”

Social justice would not become the instrument of a news report, since the fact of journalists “pleasing their bosses to get food on the table or else getting fired,” has left them with “inhumane and unjust work; they’ve left the truth lying under an avalanche of facts” as Ahmad Hissou, a Syrian journalist working for the Arabic service of Germany’s Deutsche Welle radio.

When concerned with the public’s reaction, other than the journalist’s, towards language policy, Kalout explains

The content we find in the media is a mirror of the money owner’s ideology. Thus the news get selected before hand to convey a political message, in order to place only the news that fits the owner’s view of the world. The public wouldn’t care less about the process, it waits for the result.

The public receives the information on a silver platter, since the barber won’t necessarily read what the butcher reads or the businessman. But the language used in reports, especially in the Lebanese case, creates fanatic responses among the “opinion and counter-opinion” holders. “You can’t say write “the Hezbollah militia” in Assafir, not can you just write Sa’ed al Hariri without the full titles in Al-Mustaqbal… Not only because of the media policy, but each of their public wouldn’t “like” it” explains Kalout.

The connotation-driven words in news reports makes the public easily accustomed to stereotypes. Consequently, a psychological factor rises due to “what the people see” as the social scientist explains.

People will not be physically forbidden from the other opinion, but psychologically they will confine themselves from accepting any. They will start to accuse each other with words they’ve heard on the news; in the end, people believe what they see… The Prophet (pbuh) said that we should circulate knowledge and teach the ignorant, for knowledge does not vanish when it is kept in secretly. Do we see media outlets doing so? Not at all. This leads the following public to embark a social state where the media decides whose victor and failure; while on the ground, the public battles itself.


Figure 1.  The process of news from source to public – by Allen Bell

Figure 1. The process of news from source to public – by Allen Bell

Figure 2. Assafir article on the 1st of June 2012

Figure 2. Assafir article on the 1st of June 2012

Figure 3. Al-Mustaqbal article on the 1st of June 2012

Figure 3. Al-Mustaqbal article on the 1st of June 2012



–         All quotations in the qualitative review are from conversations or formal interviews with the researcher or his contemporaneous notes from public comments made at events he attended.

–         R. Halabi (2010). Is The Enemy of My Enemy My Friend? (On The Political Discourse In The Media During War In Lebanon)

–         A. Bell (2009). The Language of New Media; available from

–         O. BouShmoukha, Al-Sahafa wal Qanoun “Journalism and The Law” (Dar al-Wissam al-Araby lel Nasher wal Tawzee’, Algeria; Maktabat Zain al-Houqouqiya wal Adabiya S.A.L., Lebanon, 2011) p.29

–         J. Herbert Atlschull, Agents of Power: The Media and Public Policy, 2nd edition (White Plains, NY: Longman Publications USA, 1995), p.5

–         O. BouShmoukha, Al-Sahafa wal Qanoun “Journalism and The Law” (Dar al-Wissam al-Araby lel Nasher wal Tawzee’, Algeria; Maktabat Zain al-Houqouqiya wal Adabiya S.A.L., Lebanon, 2011) p.66

–         L. Pintak, The New Arab Journalist: Mission and Identity in Times of Turmoil (I.B. Tauris and Co Ltd, NY, USA, 2011) p.11

–         L. Pintak, The New Arab Journalist: Mission and Identity in Times of Turmoil (I.B. Tauris and Co Ltd, NY, USA, 2011) p.116

–         Markaz Wa’ii lel Houqouq al-Ejtima’iya wal Siyasiya “Wa’ii Center for Social and Political Rights”, Ta’theer Wasa’el al-E’laam ala al-Fard wal Mujtama’ Bayna al-Tawjeeh wal Tahleel lel Taw’iya wal Tathqeef  “The Effects of Media Channel on the Individual and Society between Guidance, Analysis for Awareness, and Education”; (2012), available from

–         T. McFadden, Daily Journalism in the Arab States (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1953) p.18

–         Al-Akhbar Newspaper, Horiyat al-Sahafa fi Lubnan: Tarajou’ bila Houdoud “Press Freedom in Lebanon: Unlimited Decline” by Layal Haddad; issue number 1633 (13th of February 2012), available from

–         Al-Mustaqbal Newspaper, Nasrallah Yatlob Dafen al-Ta’if “Nasrallah Asks to Bury the Taif”; issue number 4358 (2nd of June 2012), available from

–         Assafir Newspaper, Nasrallah li-Khatifee al-Lubaniniyeen al-ehda’ashar: Da’ou al-Abriyaa’ wa Mushkilatukum Ma’ee Laha Holoul E’dda “Nasrallah for the Kidnappers of the 11 Lebanese: Leave the Innocent and Your Problem With Me Has Several Solutions”; issue number 12197 (2nd of June 2012), available from

Freedom to Speak, Respectfully.

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