CPJ alarmed by attacks on pro-government media

CPJ alarmed by attacks on pro-government media

New York, May 9, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists denounces a series of threats and attacks carried out today by the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah and its allies against pro-government news outlets in the Lebanese capital, Beirut.

In separate incidents on Friday, Hezbollah gunmen and allied opposition groups attacked and threatened offices belonging to the Future media group owned by Saad Hariri, leader of parliament’s U.S.-backed governing coalition.

Future TV’s terrestrial and satellite broadcasts, along with broadcasts from its Radio Orient, were halted after Hezbollah gunmen threatened staff at a Future office in the Qoreitem section, a senior staff member told CPJ. “We were told that if we don’t stop broadcasting [Hezbollah] would set fire to the building,” the source said. The Lebanese army subsequently advised the staff to comply, the source said.

Also Friday, loyalists from the antigovernment Lebanese Syrian Nationalist Party set fire to a Future TV building in Beirut’s Raouche area, according to international news reports. Reuters reported that thick clouds were seen rising from the building. The Associated Press reported that Hezbollah gunmen set fire to the offices of the Hariri-owned Al-Mustaqbal daily in Beirut’s Ramlet al-Bayda neighborhood.

“We call on Hezbollah fighters to end this campaign of intimidation and censorship aimed at the government-allied media.” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon.

The attacks came as Hezbollah and its armed allies seized control of Sunni Muslim-dominated West Beirut following three days of clashes with pro-government forces that have killed at least 11 people and injured dozens. The fighting was triggered mainly by a government decision to close down Hezbollah’s telephone network. Throughout the fighting, Lebanon’s factionalized media have displayed heavy partisanship, according to journalists.