Habib Battah

Why are Lebanon’s Ancient Sites Disappearing?

A two-time recipient of the Samir Kassir Award for Freedom of the Press whose work has helped save artifacts of Beirut’s Roman past. Battah proposes to investigate why efforts to preserve his country’s archeological record so often give way to development projects backed by well-connected business people or even government officials.

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Battah: Amazing finds, careless destruction continue at Lebanon’s ancient sites

4 months ago


Lebanese journalist Habib Battah, whose crowdfunding campaign you kindly supported, recently wrote about a significant find in northern Lebanon, a beam from a Bronze-age scale that suggests the region was more technologically sophisticated and economically developed than was previously thought. Battah, who is focusing on the loss of his country’s irreplaceable archeological treasures to rampant development, notes that part of the site where the item was found has already been bulldozed and paved over. Read more: http://www.beirutreport.com/2016/09/worlds-oldest-scale-found-in-lebanon-on-display-at-aub.html

Habib Battah says he feels an obligation “to document stories – be they abuses of power or activists making an impact – because often I feel these topics and individuals working for change will not be covered adequately by the mainstream press.”

Battah, who is also a filmmaker and blogger, investigates cases of official mismanagement, questionable public projects, and other under-reported stories. His recent investigations have focused on demolitions of archeological and architectural heritage sites in Lebanon, the unregulated privatization and destruction of green space and coastal areas, the lack of transparency and accountability in public works projects, and inadequate public utilities, such as Lebanon’s internet, which is among the slowest in the world.

Postwar Lebanon suffers from weakened institutions, and the mainstream media are no exception, he says. Some are beholden to business or political interests. Others lack the budget and staff to go beyond the superficial recounting of daily events. “Only in recent years have we witnessed a raft of new investigations and exposés, emanating largely from independent researchers, activists, and journalists,” Battah says.

Many Lebanese journalists face frequent harassment by powerful business interests or even assault by militias belonging to political bosses. Still, reporters in Lebanon’s politicized media find little sympathy among the public, which usually views them as political pawns or troublemakers.

“They [media] are obsessed with politicians because politicians own media in Lebanon,” Battah says. “They are not spending enough time talking about the everyday problems people face in this country.”

As investigative journalism in Lebanon is not encouraged, many young reporters are neither trained nor inclined to do the hard-hitting stories. Instead, they favor those that are far less time-consuming or avoid asking hard questions.

Even for the handful who want to do more in-depth stories, few news organizations are willing to allow the time or resources to work on such projects. For independent journalists, there is also little motivation, as local freelance rates do not cover the time and expense necessary for deeper reporting. But Battah hopes to change that grim picture by encouraging his fellow citizens to “ask serious questions about the leadership and demand better governance and accountability.”

“There has been a recent trend in citizen activism, and several major projects have been delayed or halted,” he says. “I feel there is a need to build on this momentum, to cover these battles and try to encourage others to realize that reporting can make an impact.”

One of Battah’s recent investigations revealed that a planned multimillion-dollar real estate project sat on a plot of land strewn with major Roman-era ruins. After weeks of reporting, Battah’s coverage of the project went viral and the story was picked up by several publications. “Within two days of publishing the photos, the minister of culture announced that the $150 million project would be canceled and the site preserved for the public,” Battah notes.

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To read about Battah's reporting proposal, please click here.

Click here to see Habib's reporting proposal.

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Coverage region: Lebanon

Reporting focus: Corruption

Notable work or awards: Two-time recipient of the Samir Kassir Award for Freedom of the Press. A recent expose led to the abandonment of a development project that threatened Roman ruins in Beirut.

Media: Beirut Report blog, Al Jazeera, BBC, Daily Star newspaper, Bold magazine

Previous work:

A city without a shore: Rem Koolhaas, Dalieh and the paving of Beirut's coast

Return to the Valley of Jews

Erasing memory in downtown Beirut

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