Newsletter No 32 25 July 2006
 
Financial Management:
Lebanese Press: If the War Continues, It Will Be Difficult to Hold On

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Almost two weeks into the launch of the Israeli operation against the Lebanese armed group Hezbollah, Lebanese newspapers, although continuing to operate, are facing increasing challenges. The destruction of basic infrastructure and the imposition of a land, sea and air embargo to the country have led to a massive drop in advertising, distribution problems and fears of paper supply shortages. This, coupled with heightened insecurity and decreasing morale, is taking its toll on the country’s newspaper industry.


“If the war lasts, it will be difficult to hold on,” says Élie Fayad, head of the local section at the French-speaking daily L’Orient Le Jour.

“We make money from our advertising and circulation. In times of war, advertising decreases and sales drop since less newsagents are open and roads are blocked,” says Ayad Tassabehji, general manager of English-language The Daily Star. He wonders how will newspapers continue publishing if both circulation and advertising continue to drop.

Advertising has become a problem for every newspaper. “It has dropped by 50 or 60 percent,” says Edmond Saab, executive editor-in-chief of one of the most popular Arabic-language dailies, An-Nahar. Sales of the publication have slightly increased.

This is not the case for all Lebanese newspapers. Al Safeer, an Arabic-speaking daily popular among the Shiite community, registered an initial increase in sales from the beginning of the war to 16 July, when the population of the most dangerous areas started to evacuate their homes. Since this date, circulation has decreased, according to the newspaper’s editor in chief, Talal Salman.

“Some areas lost readership and others gained. People are moving around the country and sales are more or less following this movement. However, as more and more people are fleeing the country, I predict less and less sales of newspapers over the coming period,” says Tassabehji of The Daily Star.

The embargo imposed by the Israeli army has also posed a major logistical problem for newspapers. “The borders are closed for any shipment. We will run out of newsprint by the end of the month,” says Tassabehji. L’Orient Le Jour and An-Nahar say they are facing the same problem.

“To compensate these losses, the number of pages has been reduced from 28 to 24, those four pages being approximately the number of advertising pages we used to carry before the war,” says the An-Nahar editor-in-chief. The Daily Star and Al Safeer have adopted similar measures.

Despite that reduction in the number of pages, every Lebanese newspaper has increased the space devoted to local information and analysis of the current events. Other sections, such as sports, have been reduced or removed.

Lebanese newspapers are devoting extra space for pictures and ground coverage. Yet security is an acute concern. On 23 July, a Lebanese photographer for Agence France-Presse was killed during an Israeli raid in South Lebanon.

“Journalists also have problems gaining access to cover the events. There are no taxis, no fuel and roads have been bombed, isolating some regions from the rest of the country,” says George Chamieh, financial director of L’Orient Le Jour. Others just cannot travel to their newspapers or assume a big risk in doing so.

As a temporary solution, the Al Safeer premises have become a temporary shelter for those staffers –journalists and technicians—who live in targeted areas. If the situation in Beirut seriously deteriorates, An-Nahar intends to accommodate employees in hotels next to the newspaper’s headquarters.

“The main difficulty is security of the staff coming in and out of the office. The other is to keep staff moral up,” says Tassabehji of The Daily Star. “Humans in general, and journalists are no exception, become demoralized after few days of bombing. It is almost impossible to write a business story when you know that a bomb might fall on your head.”