Middle East Strategic Perspectives was solicited to conduct a second monitoring of the Lebanese media coverage of the oil and gas sector, as part of the project “Supporting Channels for Civic Engagement in the Management of the Lebanese Oil and Gas Sector” managed by the Samir Kassir Foundation with the support of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Oil for Development program. The monitoring targeted the coverage of the nascent Lebanese oil and gas sector and developments related to the sector in neighboring countries, namely Cyprus and Israel.
We believe that good governance and accountability require a well-informed citizenry. The media can play a fundamental role, both in (i) spreading knowledge and explaining complex issues related to the sector, and in (ii) monitoring the sector and contributing to holding officials accountable. That is why, we believe, it is important to build the media’s capacity in covering the oil and gas sector.
The idea behind the second edition of our monitoring of Lebanese media’s coverage of the oil and gas sector is to assess the current state of affairs, evaluate where progress has been made and where challenges persist. The present report can also be seen as an indirect evaluation of efforts put to train Lebanese journalists over the past two years, by identifying where progress has been made and how to calibrate efforts – where needed – to yield more positive results.
Mirroring our 2014 monitoring – to allow a precise comparison – the 2016 monitoring period was conducted over 75 days, also from February 1 to April 15. Five daily newspapers, two TV channels, two news websites and two magazines were subjected to an in-depth qualitative and quantitative monitoring. The 2014 report is available here.
The monitoring – conducted on a daily basis by MESP – focused in particular on the:
• Frequency of reporting on the topic over the monitored time period;
• Accuracy of information;
• Reliability of sources;
• Topics covered; and
• Quality of investigations.
In the 66 stories found and evaluated during the 2016 monitoring period, MESP identified 40 errors. The average error per story in 2016 is 0.6, compared to 0.44 in 2014. The picture becomes a bit grimmer if we take the number of stories and errors by source agency. Indeed, the 40 errors were all made in stories produced by Lebanese media outlets. The 12 stories produced by foreign press agencies or media outlets did not include mistakes. The average error per Lebanese story then would be 0.74. The difference between 2014 and 2016 becomes more pronounced.
Based on the results of this year’s monitoring, we identified the following major trends in Lebanese media’s coverage of the oil and gas sector:
1. Decline in the number of articles
In 2016, we noticed a decline in the number of articles covering the oil and gas sector, slightly more than half the number of stories produced over the same period in 2014. We can safely assume this does not reflect lack of interest in the subject but is a direct result of delays in moving the process forward in Lebanon.
2. Greater interest in the Eastern Mediterranean
The decline in the overall number of articles on the oil and gas sector is not reflected across the board. A third of all the stories produced in 2016 (22 out of 66) covered news or analyzed developments related to the oil and gas sector in Cyprus or Israel. A massive increase compared to 2014 when only five out of 122 stories covered regional developments, and one of the main surprises of the 2016 edition of our media monitoring.
3. Publishing stories produced by foreign press agencies and media outlets
Twelve out of the 66 stories grabbed and monitored in 2016 were produced by foreign press agencies or media outlets. Only one of them contained additional input by the local media outlet publishing the story. The 12 articles covered regional developments, reflecting an interest in what happens elsewhere in the Eastern Mediterranean, and possibly a certain lack of confidence in covering regional news directly, which Lebanese media outlets can gradually overcome.
4. Governance and Transparency
Another pleasant surprise in 2016 is the sharp rise in stories addressing “Governance and Transparency”, highlighting, on one hand, growing concerns about potential corrupt practices in the sector, and, on the other, a willingness to keep a watchful eye on the sector and monitor related developments.
5. Preference for news coverage
In 2016, there was a clear preference for news coverage. Over half the stories (36 out of 66) covered political or non-political issues. Also significant this year is the number of stories produced covering oil and gas events organized during the monitoring period (nine out of 66), which gave the media an opportunity to talk about the sector, during this slow oil-and-gas-news period.
6. Fewer errors in stories categorized as “News coverage”
In 2014 we noted a relatively high number of errors in stories categorized as “News coverage”, although a journalist is prone to commit fewer mistakes when simply covering the news. In 2016, there was progress on this front, with an average of 0.19 errors per “News coverage” story compared to 0.37 in 2014.
7. Most common mistakes
The most common mistakes repeated by journalists involved the use of inaccurate terminology and inaccurate estimations of the hydrocarbon potential in neighboring countries. But there was progress in 2016: There were fewer references to “discoveries” and “reserves” when talking about Lebanon, and no attempts to estimate the country’s hydrocarbon potential, although it is often taken for granted by Lebanese journalists.
8. Basic information often wrong
As in 2014, some basic information and official data are often inaccurate: gas estimates in the various gas fields discovered in the Eastern Mediterranean, the year of discovery, identifying offshore blocks and who they are licensed to etc. This probably indicates not enough effort is being put into fact-checking.
9. Op-eds still include too many errors
In 2014, we noted that given the importance of opinion pieces in providing prescriptive analysis, the number of errors made in this type of coverage can be perceived as relatively high, with an average of 0.39 error per article. In 2016, this became even more obvious with an average of 1.50 error per article.
10. Resorting to sources more frequently
Another positive development: on average, there was just above 1.90 sources per story in 2016, almost double the 2014 average. Most media outlets monitored made an effort to resort to sources more frequently, as recommended in our previous report. More significantly, there is a clear improvement in identifying sources. In 2014, many of the mistakes made were attributed to sources and not to the author of the articles. In 2016, only five out of the 40 errors detected overall are attributed to sources.
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