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Sparks fly over TV presenter's monologue.

Summary: Officials came to the defense of free speech Friday after tensions flared between Justice Minister Salim Jreissati and the host of a local TV talk show.

BEIRUT: Officials came to the defense of free speech Friday after tensions flared between Justice Minister Salim Jreissati and the host of a local TV talk show.

Host of LBC's show "Kalam Ennas," Marcel Ghanem, received support the day after he devoted the opening segment of his show to a monologue blasting Jreissati for a recent decision to investigate outspoken guests featured on his program last week and picking holes in the minister's record in office.

Ghanem's "Kalam Ennas" is a weekly talk show dealing with social, political and economic issues.

After Ghanem's introductory segment Thursday, Jreissati issued a rebuke against the talk show host, saying the tone of his show indicated that hysteria had taken hold of some political TV programs. "The introduction of the talk show ... proves conclusively that hysteria has controlled some political programs," a statement from Jreissati's office said.

The statement added that the program had let the public down at a time when Lebanon's media, in general, were upholding professional standards.

"No one in Lebanon today is above the law, and no immunity of any kind [is available] to those who are asked to testify before security and judicial authorities," the statement continued.

The battle of words came after the justice minister last week asked State Prosecutor Judge Samir Hammoud to investigate two Saudi journalists for explosive comments made during a "Kalam Ennas" interview.

The journalists, Ibrahim al-Mari and Oudwan al-Ahmari, drew criticism for remarks about Lebanese President Michel Aoun, Speaker Nabih Berri, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil and Lebanese Army head Gen. Joseph Aoun.

Attempts to contact Ghanem for comment were unsuccessful.

Speaking to local Al-Jadeed channel, the host said he was raising the alarm that journalists were coming under fire, adding that he felt his security was in jeopardy and that if anything were to happen he would blame Jreissati.

Jreissati's statement Friday fired back strongly. "Wrong accusations toward political leaders and national figures by those who are close [to Ghanem] is a punishable act," the statement read.

It went on to say, "It is not enough for a media institution to [wash their hands of] the host, to exempt him from his obligations toward his country and its laws."

After Jreissati's response, Information Minister Melhem Riachi issued a statement saying that during times of political crisis, solidarity mattered most.

"The media plays a strategic role in this phase in order to prevent igniting strife and it fulfilling this role," Riachi said. "If the media committed any unintentional mistake, there is a mechanism that we should all follow and that is through the Information Ministry and the National Media Council."

In a statement, the Secretariat of the Higher Judicial Council also blasted Ghanem for discrediting Mount Lebanon Public Prosecutor Judge Ghada Aoun.

In his monologue, Ghanem had criticized the judiciary and Judge Aoun, demanding there be no political interference in the judicial system.

In response, the Public Prosecutor said in its statement: "The freedom of expressing opinions is protected, but exceeding the limits of this freedom or defaming someone ... requires the Public Prosecution to take the necessary action and this is what Judge Aoun did."

Following this week's "Kalam Ennas" show, the Army also responded strongly to comments made by one guest suggesting that half of the weaponry received by the Army ends up in the hands of "a certain party" -- presumably a reference to Hezbollah.

"We express deep regret at this ... misinformation, slander, media fabrication and disregard for public opinion," the Army said in a statement. "What was said came from the speaker's imagination and is not true, objective or credible in any way."

The Army statement went on to say that such "misinformation" assaults Lebanese dignity and "provides a free service to our enemy Israel, at a time when the Army continues to fight terrorism."

It added: "The Army is doing its best to preserve the country's ... stability ... [and] this requires complete solidarity ... instead of directing arrows at the military, which all Lebanese consider their protector."

As sparks flew, support for Ghanem flooded in from Lebanese on social media, politicians and journalists, with #Kalam_Ennas trending on Twitter.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Nov 18, 2017
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