For a week and a half now, the streets of Lebanon have been jammed with protesters - the biggest anti-government demonstrations there for 15 years.

The protests were triggered by talk of a new tax on instant messaging app WhatsApp and other internet call services like Facebook Messenger and FaceTime. They have grown into a nation-wide movement against government corruption and economic mismanagement.

And while much of Lebanese politics is sectarian, the protesters are a non-sectarian coalition and the issues are economic. 

But unlike the movement they are supposed to cover, much of Lebanon's media are split along sectarian lines. Some of the more independent outlets have jumped on this story.

"Channels like LBC and MTV and Al Jadeed, are just running constantly on the interviews of the crowd. They have been basically telling the crowd to just speak. And just getting one person's opinion after another," says Habib Battah, fellow, Reuters Institute Oxford.

But outlets controlled by politicians have been spinning, downplaying or just ignoring the unrest.

"The media landscape in Lebanon is monopolised by a handful of political dynasties. About 12 families own or control the entire mainstream media landscape," says Lara Bitar, media worker and organiser.

"OTV, which is affiliated to the president's party, on the very first night of the demonstrations OTV was broadcasting a cooking show. Reporters on the ground have been forced to remove their logos from the microphones because protesters have simply refused to speak to them."

But Salim Haddad, head of the media advisory board for the Free Patriotic Movement, shares a different view.

"OTV is covering the demonstrations, is taking the pulse of the street. They are sending the reporters sometimes to hostile surroundings. And these reporters are being cursed at and harassed because they are thought to be from the government side, which is not the case. Some of these stations were being part of the demonstrations inciting people whereas usually the role of the media is to just take the pulse of the street and report what is happening," Haddad says.

"Look at international TV stations. Have you seen a TV station in France inviting people to go on manifestations with the Gilet Jaunes [yellow vest movement]? No, but they cover it. And this is how it should be done.”

The prevailing distrust Lebanese have in their mainstream media has led them to use social media to share information.

But unlike the Arab Spring, this is no Facebook revolution. Millions of Lebanese - of all sects - are not just out to bring down a dictator or a mere government. They want to overthrow a system - sectarian to the core - right down to the TV channels that are supposed to be telling their story. Their basic message: regardless of what our politicians tell us, no matter how our media choose to report it, Lebanon doesn't have to be this way.

Contributors: Habib Battah - Fellow, Reuters Institute Oxford
Rania Masri - Writer and academic
Lara Bitar - Media worker and organiser
Salim Haddad - Head, Media Advisory Board, Free Patriotic Movement

Source: Al Jazeera News