As we take a long hard look at Lebanese society, we cannot help but grimace at the prevalent corruption. It is a painful reality that corruption is deeply entrenched in our country.
Bribery, nepotism and embezzlement are not simply the way we do business, nor only a matter of political economy; they are integrated into our social and cultural norms to the extent where we glorify the cunning Lebanese citizen who manipulates the system.
Upon asking a government employee about his income, the half-tragic,
half-comedic response is that he usually classifies it under two categories: his salary and everything else he makes “on the side,” as if the latter is an inherent benefit that comes with the job.
In response to this national epidemic, the government, civil society and even the private sector are all playing a part in trying to find a cure. But what about our other major pillar of society? Where do the media find themselves in this process? It isoften said that “the media is the mirror of society.” But when the reflection becomes this twisted, the media can no longer be content to simply reflect reality, to simply be a silent and passive witness to the bitter situation. In a country where the other three powers are struggling to counter corruption, it becomes the duty of the “fourth power” to institute positive change in order to enable a better society.
Of course, one cannot deny the efforts made by some media outlets that are trying, through their investigative reporting, to act as the watchdog of democratic society. However, the strengths of the media in fighting corruption and bribery far exceed its mere reporting role. Indeed, in a society that condones rule breaking and short cuts, the media must act both as a critic and a conscience.
Obviously it should inform, but more importantly it should educate, inspire and call for collective action; corruption is omnipresent in Lebanon, but its hold on the norms of our society is not evenly matched by our awareness of the wide-ranging social, political and economic implications of this problem. Examples of these implications are numerous, from the discouragement of potential foreign investors to the exodus of qualified Lebanese professionals, who leave the country in droves because, though they have merit, they do not have waste to aid them in gaining meaningful employment. The result is a brain drain and a lack of investment that Lebanon can ill afford, either economically or socially.
The media has a role to play in helping to deter corruption by highlighting these negative outcomes and encouraging citizens to reflect on their behavior and its consequences. If it chose to do so, the media could assume its proper place as a powerful tool, not only for greater transparency, but also for increasing our understanding of the acuteness of the problem.
With the rising trend in online users, another approach for the media is to tap into this community when discussing corruption, especially considering the need to connect with the younger generation. Examples abound of anti-corruption campaigns that turn the public into active participants in reporting instances of corruption, debating the causes, and solving the problem.
Such a network, if properly mobilized and mediatized, would prompt stronger public opposition to corruption as more and more citizens join in. More importantly, this cooperative action system establishes public ownership of these anti-corruption efforts.
By rolling out similar initiatives, the media could provide the public space necessary to debate the issue of corrupt practices, while explaining to citizens how their decisions about corruption are influencing issues ranging from the amount of money in their pocket to their general safety. This effort would also entail building strategic coalitions and partnerships with civil society, government and the private sector.
The media’s presence in every household in Lebanon grants it an unrivalled ability to communicate with the public directly. But this capability entails a tacit agreement with the audience to move beyond mere sensationalism and reflect a sincere commitment to serve as a catalyst for change.
By informing and educating, the media can empower the people, ultimately creating the conditions necessary for bringing about fundamental change in our system of values. It is only then that we can have the courage to look at our reflection in the mirror once more.