|'Press Under Siege:' PM says journalists have 'helped shape our democracy'
|American columnist applauds slain tueni for 'courageous words'
A conference held to mark the one-year anniversary of journalist and anti-Syrian MP Gebran Tueni's assassination turned into a celebration of courage and commitment to "the truth" by journalists from across the region on Sunday.
"The Lebanese media is greater than the Fourth Estate, as it has helped shape our democracy and bring about Lebanon's independence," Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said during a speech broadcast live to an audience at the Beirut International Exhibition and Leisure Center (BIEL).
Apart from honoring Tueni, who served as general manager of local daily An-Nahar, the two-day event - entitled "Press Under Siege" - also seeks to explore reform efforts by media in the region.
"Our ... democratic regime is facing a challenge," Siniora said. "Yet we still have a solid history of sacrifices by people like Tueni and other martyrs."
Siniora said he was confident the government was "capable of facing these challenges, absorbing the opposition and sharing power ... without sinking once again into [foreign] tutelage."
World-renowned journalists were also on hand to pay their respects to their late colleague, and vowed that his death would be an inspiration to others to always "speak the truth."
Ignatius said "co"Tueni and An-Nahar remind us that journalism is about telling the truth, even when others want you to be silent," said American syndicated columnist David Ignatius.
"Courageous words" from prominent figures such as Tueni, "are not bought cheap," Ignatius added.
"The truth is a diamond, which can cut through anything ... The truth may go dormant for a while, but it doesn't die. It comes back to shame the lies," he said.
The columnist said that those who doubt the perseverance of newspapers should look to Lebanon, "where writing the truth carries a higher potential cost than not getting invited to a dinner party, or losing access to a source, or getting sued for libel."
Later the "Gebran Tueni Award," sculpted in the shape of a hand clutching a pen, was presented to the editor of the Yemen Times, Nadia al-Sakkaf, for "her courage in defending human and women's rights and the freedom of expression."
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman said the award - which carries a 10,000 euro ($) stipend for newspaper leadership training - might one day become the Arab world's answer to America's prestigious Pulitzer Prizes .
"I stand in awe of journalists in the Middle East," Friedman said in pre-recorded comments played for the audience, "for my only concern when I write a column is whether to call a certain leader a jerk or jackass. But in the Arab countries, words may cost me my life, my job or years in jail."
"Tueni was a patriot who wouldn't sell his soul to anyone," Friedman added. "He was never for sale, and as far as he was concerned Lebanon was never for sale."
An answer to Tueni's emphasis on new leadership was also unveiled at the event. Twenty-seven youths meant to represent what they called a "shadow government" introduced themselves to the audience and vowed to "use dialogue, not violence." The young activists will hold meetings and dialogue sessions, in what they hope will be an example for the current Cabinet and any future governments.
Workshops for journalists from Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Yemen and Egypt were also kicked off on Sunday.
The Daily Star