Government Closes Tele-Liban, Promising to Reopen it After Three Months, Action Met with Popular Anger as a First Step in Liquidating Lebanese Public Institutions
The Daily Star
After more than 41 years of broadcasting, the first television station in the Middle East shut down last night.
State-run Tele-Liban went off the air at midnight and until it restarts in three months, the familiar blue-and-white striped logo will be the only reminder of the station’s existence.
Mixed feelings could be read on Wednesday on the faces of TL employees: despair, anger, hope, disbelief, nostalgia but above all, uncertainty about the future.
From the early hours of the morning, they filed through the halls of station headquarters in Tallet al-Khayyat, side by side with the porters who were emptying the building of broadcasting equipment, turning what was recently thought to be impossible into a reality.
The minister of information sought to paint an upbeat picture of the situation. Speaking to employees who gathered in the building’s lobby, he assured them that TL would be reopened before the May 25 deadline.
“Only then it will be a new institution with new by-laws,” he promised, adding that when recruitment starts priority will be given to “qualified TL personnel who can accept and abide by the new rules.”
Aridi urged the employees to ignore rumors about the station’s future, promising to bear “full responsibility” for his remarks.
“But I will not be held accountable for rumors that are based on speculation.”
During his speech, a clearly unhappy Aridi was equally firm with the employees who interrupted him. “I understand your concerns and your problems, and this is why I’m talking to you now; otherwise, I would have talked to the director and told him what I have to say and left.”
“I realize that injustices have taken place, but that doesn’t mean that the problem should drag longer than it already has,” Aridi said. “There are some unpleasant decisions that need to be made. Without them, the station will never get on its feet.”
He also assured employees that no one would be dismissed without due compensation.
However, the minister’s words failed to reassure many.
“This was the last episode of injustice in this station,” said Mirna Maalouli, a news director assistant.
Maalouli, a graduate of LU’s Media Department, is a seven-year veteran with TL with a monthly salary of LL500,000.
“Right up to the very end, people who had wasta were able to benefit,” she complained.
According to Maalouli and many of her colleagues recently-approved promotions in the news department were based on political connections and not qualifications.
She said that she was denied a letter of recommendation or anything that would officially recognize her work.
“When I asked my supervisor for a letter, he told me that I wouldn’t need it because I will be coming back; only I’m not sure I want to any more,” she said.
“I work hard and I deserve more than what I was getting, but I was never able to resign. It’s been a second home for me and I enjoyed working here, and that made me endure the financial injustice.”
Maalouli’s story was not unique. Around every corner in the building there was another story, with employees all agreeing that the “family ties” at TL were difficult to find elsewhere. And while many acknowledged that TL needed reform in order to prosper, the price seemed a high one.
Hanadi Hammoud, a weather reporter who makes LL450,000 monthly, was equally upset. “I have no clue where to go or where to start from,” she said.
“Until today I didn’t believe that TL was actually going to close. There’s no sorrow and no joy in my heart … it’s as though I am empty inside.”
“The minister made us feel more comfortable, and I believe that in the future only qualified people will be hired, but they will also have wasta,” said news reporter Nada Hout. “TL is like Lebanon on a smaller scale: every politician wants his share.”
Ferial Butros, a translator with 10 years of service at the station, said rumors about the employees’ lack of qualifications would make it difficult to find new jobs.
“It’s true that there are plenty of unqualified people, but there are also plenty of others who not only have excellent qualifications but who have been able to produce something with very few resources.”
Meanwhile, claims that the union was asking employees who received government compensation to pay 2 percent of the total to the union appear to be moot, as many employees said on Wednesday that they were not taking the request seriously especially with the future still so unclear.
In its final news bulletin, viewers were presented with a recap of the station’s history. News anchors, at times nearly overcome by emotion, discussed the sacrifices made by many to keep the network going, and, in an allusion to the reason for the station’s closure, told viewers about the few who cared only about “their own interests.”
While those few may be happy today, hundreds are now crying not just for the jobs they lost but for the home and family that have likely disappeared for good.
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