A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

a picture worth 1000 words: Tawasol on Future Akhbar

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 1, 2008

24 hour news channels are a big thing in the region these days, at least for countries and wealthy politicos looking for a guaranteed-to-be-friendly media outlet to report their news (and global news from their perspective). And television viewers are the happy beneficiaries. If you live in the Middle East and you speak English and/or Arabic, your television news options have expanded considerably since 2006 :).

France has created the English-language France 24, and (somewhat more entertainingly) Iran has Press TV. For Arabic speakers, Russia has Rusiya al-Yom, and the British are about to launch BBC Arabic Television.

Private players have joined the game as well: the Hariri family’s Future TV, one of Lebanon’s four post-war terrestrial (i.e., local) and satellite channels, launched a 24 hour news channel called Future Akhbar a few months ago.

It hasn’t made a tremendous impression on me, since most of its news is simulcast from the Lebanese channel, which makes me question the point of a separate news channel. But I do watch it in the morning when I am at the gym, and I have developed a very soft spot for one of its programs.

As I’ve mentioned before, one of my uncles spent most of his adult life in a wheelchair. I have a great appreciation for all efforts made to integrate disabled people into the mainstream. Welcoming people with physical limitations does bring many rewards, but it also has costs – literal ones, like building ramps and elevators, and figurative ones, like dealing with “why bother?” and other negative attitudes.

In Beirut I almost never see people in wheelchairs. Sometimes I see people who walk with arm braces, but for the most part the disabled are invisible in this city – because they have no way of getting around. Sidewalks are poorly paved, used as parking lots or simply non-existent, and no wheelchair-friendly public transportation exists. Nor are buildings handicap accessible: stairs and narrow elevators make it almost impossible for people without fully functioning legs to enter.

As a result, the disabled are invisible: as pedestrians, as shoppers, as workers. Out of sight, out of mind.

What I love about Future Akhbar is that one of its anchors is a man in a wheelchair, Dr. Fadi Halabi. He anchors a one-hour talk show called Tawasol, which is commonly translated as “Communicate”. The show deals with “societal and individual problems” of society, and consists of a series of interviews with studio and outside guests. Dr. Halabi is a psychologist (a “well-known” psychologist, according to Future Akhbar’s website), and his role is to listen and ask questions. He looks sharp: crisp suit, close-cropped salt and pepper hair, stylish black glasses. And when he listens to his guests, he looks like he is listening carefully.

Tawasol isn’t a show about disabled people, and it doesn’t trumpet Dr. Halabi’s disability. But neither does it hide it. When the camera pans back to show him and his guest sitting in the studio, his wheelchair is clearly visible. And when the show ends, it does the same.

I’m not sure how great the show is from a viewer’s perspective – I watch it with the sound off. But it makes me hugely happy to know that it exists. Good job, Future Akhbar.


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