Lebanon's MTV returns after seven years off air


June 18, 2010 Updated Apr 7, 2009 at 1:12 PM EDT

A private Lebanese television shut down in 2002 by a then Syrian-backed government is to return to the airwaves on Tuesday, just two months before the parliamentary election.

"MTV today returns as a podium for all Lebanese, for all parties, to speak out on what is best for the country," Ghayath Yazbeck, who heads the channel's news and political programmes, told AFP.

MTV, or Murr Television, was shut down by a court ruling in September 2002 on the grounds it had violated a law on election broadcasts in Lebanon, where local media outlets can only survive through political patronage.

Yazbeck said the channel had historically opposed Syria's 29-year military and political dominance of Lebanon, which ended in 2005 in the wake of mass protests following the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

But he said MTV had also supported the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah movement in its armed fight to drive Israeli forces from Lebanon, but had concerns about its weapons.

"MTV is targeting a sector of the young Lebanese middle class on educational, cultural and social levels" and aspires to be Lebanon's only "real fourth estate," Yazbeck said.

The channel will also "offer in-depth, rather than superficial, programmes that deal with our problems," he said.

Lebanon goes to the polls on June 7, in a vote seen as crucial for the future of a country that has long been rocked by political instability, violence and all-out war.

MTV became the scapegoat for a family feud during a 2002 by-election when the two Murr brothers, Michel and Gabriel, locked horns over a seat in a Christian stronghold being contested by pro- and anti-syrian candidates.

Gabriel Murr's son, also named Michel, now heads MTV.

Television and radio stations and newspapers have been the target of numerous attacks in Lebanon, as have individual journalists, almost always critics of Damascus.

Gunmen forced the closure of a television channel run by parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri, son of the slain ex-premier, during deadly violence last May pitting the Sunni-led majority against the Syria-backed Hezbollah and its allies.

Several outspoken critics of Damascus have been killed or injured in a wave of attacks since the Hariri assassination.

Samir Kassir, a prominent academic and columnist, was killed in a car bombing in June 2005 and television presenter May Chidiac lost a hand and a leg in an attempt on her life the same year.

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