Questioning BBC Pop-up in Lebanon

Chermine Sleiman Haidar

Opinions Editor

A month ago, it was drug-lords in the Bekaa region. A couple of weeks later, it’s brothels in Lebanon.

With reporter Benjamin Zand, the BBC pop up team embarked in Lebanon to cover and provide insight on topics that are not usually talked about.

The first short documentary tackled homosexuality and transsexuality in Lebanon. The one after that tackled illegal drugs, and the most recent one featured prostitution.

In the drug-lord short documentary, Ali Chamas is featured in his home, openly showing off his heavy weaponry and the illegal drug production taking place on his premises.

Not to defend his barbaric way of life, but his argument on the government’s fault in initiating this Lebanese culture of corruption makes sense to me. When your government is corrupt, when many rights are taken away from you, can’t you find yourself with nothing but corruptive and illegal means of survival?

What causes controversy, in my opinion, is the way prominent issues like these were tackled by the BBC. A 20-minute long documentary cannot provide adequate insight to the viewer, and this might consequently lead to a misrepresentation of the issue. BBC’s third film in Lebanon is entitled “Pimps, Prostitutes, and Refugees.” The title itself causes confusion to the audience, especially as the viewer comes to realize throughout the documentary that refugees are victims of human trafficking rings. Although they do engage in illegal prostitution, most of them do so unwillingly when they embark in a country as ‘refugees’ with no resources whatsoever provided to them.

The title of the documentary assimilates the terms ‘prostitute’ and ‘refugee,’ completely disregarding the complexity of the refugee crisis. This also denies the women refugees’ status as the victims of a sick system of pimping and prostitution.

In both the documentaries on drugs and prostitution, attempts to sensationalize the issue gave me the impression of a certain glorification of the villain. Ali Chamas and Toni Hanna are portrayed as the ‘heroes’ of the story. Whether this hero status is attributed to them in a positive or negative sense, I believe that the focus of a documentary like these two should be the victims, those who have endured tragedies because of illegal systems.

‘Investigative’ documentaries, especially those conducted by prominent media outlets such as the BBC, have immense capacity to make a change and raise awareness on otherwise taboo subjects. But the mere act of engaging in taboo topics does not automatically entail positive outcome. The way such pieces are produced, the angle taken, and the focus chosen, make all the difference it takes to actually establish change.

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