Open discussion with the minister of Information Melhem Riachi
Melhem Riachi is one of a kind minister, in the Hariri government. Not only because he is the representative of Dr Samir Geagea but surely because he is one of the artisans of the historic agreement between Christians, that ended thirty years of a torn apart community and authorized the election of the president of the Republic, general Michel Aoun. In addition, Melhem Riachi is a man of journalism. He knows the profession for having practiced it, the ups and downs, as well as the changes. Pleasing, agreeable and approachable, native of khenchara, the locality of Greek-Catholics, in the middle of Metn, he is a persuasive and convincing speaker, he goes right to the point without detours. To the image of the green locality where he draws his roots, Melhem Riachi is a man of land, proud of his origins. I met him in Riyad during an official visit. He felt close to the Lebanese community, with whom he met and discussed openly. I noted he was very popular among the youngster and would make an excellent parliament member. On this matter, he is discreet, as well as regarding his private life for he refuses to speak about his recent marriage. A modest minister? Surely and cautious, preferring not to unveil his political ambitions, playing the role of a soldier who obeys the commandment of the Lebanese forces party. Regarding his ministry, even with great ambitions, he is conscious of the heavy bureaucracy. Portrait of a pragmatic man.
What are the projects you have accomplished after several months at the head of the ministry? If the achievements we seek to realize willingly and with all the efforts were to the height of our ambitions and expectations, we would have experienced an evolution. But due to bureaucracy and administrative routine, what was accomplished to date, despite the political circumstances sometimes not very helpful, can be considered as a step in the good direction. The establishment of the new frame of organization of the ministry of Dialogue and Communication, that will be replacing the ministry of Information being the most important achievement. We deposited the request at the Civil Service Council, for it to be examined and accepted then to be transferred to the council of ministers, then the parliament who will legislate in this sense. We have accomplished in collaboration with the Order of editors, an important achievement regarding the journalists who are part of this institution. We offered all those who work in the information domain whether written, television, radio or digital information, the possibility to be part of the syndicate that will gather all the journalists, including the newspapers owners. The last achievement concerns the evolution of the work in the directions related to the ministry, like the national agency for information, Radio Liban and the center for research, so that the work of these institutions would accompany that of the ministry of Dialogue and Communication.
Since you belong to the profession, what do you think of the actual situation of Lebanese media? What do they suffer from? Information is the mirror of society, reflecting the social reality with all its advantages and disadvantages, we cannot say that the commercial and productive aspect is at its best, knowing that Lebanese journalism as a mission is at its best. Journalism is conscious of its role during this period even if more objectivity and transparency, search for the truth are required as an essential base for its activity. It is true that journalism in general is living a difficult financial period in the audiovisual domain, following the weak advertising market and the decrease in advertisement that multinational companies give to Lebanon. Nevertheless it’s the written press that suffers the most, we see big and respectable newspapers ceasing their activity or in the way to be closed to go towards digital information.
«Lebanese journalism as a mission is at its paroxysm. And totally conscious of its importance.»
Do you think it’s the end of newspapers? Will they be definitely replaced by social networks? Despite the crisis encountered by the newspapers and their popularity in decrease, people love to read papers. They have created a relation with ink years ago. I think newspapers are still successful rivaling with Internet, as long as they give a quality information, that is not limited to only giving information but analyzing and commenting it, to become a responsible information lighting the way for people.
What are the limits of the freedom of the press? How to guarantee it? In principle there are no limits for the freedom of the press. In the frame of the laws, respect for others opinion, and all that threatens public stability and civil peace. Apart from that, I am for the absolute and total freedom of the journalist, whatever the means of expression, including the blogs. Lebanon is the country of freedom, if not its presence in this part of the world would have no sense. I presented to the council of ministers a law project regarding the ethic of the profession, a law that would be a guarantee to protect the freedom of the press as well as the journalists from ideological and discretionary politics. At the same time, this law will protect the journalist from his proper excesses, that could do harm to his reputation and the one of the press in general. The law related to publications, gives decisions on the complaints by people, insulted through the news or in a published comment, against the journalists responsible.
Minister Melhem Riachy with Solange Khoury united for life.
Do you think that actually, this freedom that made Lebanon’s pride, is threatened? I don’t think that the freedom of the press could be threatened in Lebanon. Some tried in the past to control the press but didn’t succeed, and their trials failed. This proves that the press in Lebanon is sufficiently armed to face all the attempts that want to domesticate it. I am confident because journalists are responsible and conscious. They know to approach the events in a way to insure their well being and that of the profession.
You are one of the principal artisans of the reconciliation between Christians. Are you convinced that this alliance is made to last? Nobody realizes the importance of this historic reconciliation between the Lebanese forces and the free patriotic movement, as much as the one who lived the drama of tense relations between their bases during several years, and the negative repercussions inside each party. We have worked for hours with deputy Ibrahim Kanaan on the little details to arrive to this agreement in his actual version. It was elaborated to last, based on convictions and not interests, as it’s the case today, on the part of some people that find in this reconciliation a mean to realize their aims and wishes. And despite the tense ambience I always think that this reconciliation is an important achievement in the history of relations between Christians.
What did the exercise of power teach you and give you? The exercise of power taught me many things, the most important is to remain Melhem Riachi without a title, because people loved me this way and I simply love them. Most of the time, power moves us away of those we love.
What is your political ambition? I don’t decide personally of my political ambition, it depends on the party to which I belong. I love to stay as I am, but those who love me push me to realize my political ambition. I hope to be able to realize things for my surrounding, through the political position to which I would be affected by the commandment of my party.
«The newspapers can rival with Internet in a sense that they do not only convey news, but they also analyze them.»
Some weeks ago Lebanon was confronted to a big political crisis, what are the consequences to be drawn of it? We have surpassed this phase with the less possible damages and we got out of it by consolidating our national unity, the only guarantee for the future. What’s important is to know how to take advantage of our mistakes and not to go backward, aiming to more productivity and more interior stability to protect our country from the surrounding wars. Disassociation requires operational measures to prove really to the world that the Lebanese, with no exception will not interfere in the internal affairs of any Arab country.
Do you think that Lebanon is definitely far from regional conflicts? If the disassociation policy is really applied, I think that Lebanon would be able to stand out against all dangers, and will be away from the regional conflicts and their negative repercussions on the interior situation of our country. We could then, work seriously to consolidate our economical situation, that is at the point of collapsing. Interview Conducted by Sabine Farra de Cerda.
Melhem Antoun Riachi originates from Khenchara North Metn. He is the youngest of a family of four children, two boys and two girls. He is married to Solange Khoury, director at ANB television.
Writer, journalist and researcher specialized in the Middle East affairs and compared religions. He has to his credit several studies in this domain.
He is consultant in political affairs and strategy of negotiations, professor of geostatistical communication at USEK.
Director of the department of communication at the Lebanese forces party since February 2012.
Appointed by the Lebanese Forces party as their special delegate close to General Aoun, he succeeded in cooperation with deputy Ibrahim Kanaan from CPL, the historical agreement that was signed by two Christian leaders on June 2nd 2015, and known under the name: The Declaration of intentions between CPL and Lebanese Forces, that ended thirty years of conflicts.
Social militant, the lively minister is president of a Caritas antenna in Metn. He has to his credit many publications and books, edited at Dar An-Nahar and by the French publishing house Harmattan, namely; Juda Iscariot the innocent traitor (1995), the elections of the year 2000 (2000), the well (2003), the guardian of the tomb (2007), The book of reproaches (2016)…