A new take on old politics: A DRI talk show brings a breath of fresh air to Lebanon’s media landscape

DRI Lebanon produces a weekly political talk show and trains young journalists by involving them in the project. Encouraged to speak freely, young people and guests discuss politics, democracy and Lebanon’s future. 

By: Amanda Siddharta

Michel Daoud checked his audio equipment on the sidewalk of bustling Beirut, Lebanon, one late afternoon in May. He stopped a few people and asked if they were willing to be interviewed in front of a camera. With ease, Michel asked his interviewees the same question: “Do you think it’s ok to curse politicians on comedy shows or social media?”. Attentively, he listened to their answer. 

Most people cited free speech and freedom of expression, although some disagreed with the use of harsh language. One man reiterated, “of course, we are in a democratic country.” At the end, Michel delivered a quick recap of people’s opinions. Happy with the footage he got for the week’s episode of Democracy Reporting International (DRI) Lebanon’s political talk show, Nafas Jdeed, he returned to the studio to assist in the remaining production of the show.

The 22-year-old journalism student at the Lebanese University had also prepared a few questions for the guest of the talk show, Lebanese comedian Shaden Esperanza,  an outspoken critic of the current political situation in the country. “It was a great experience for me as a student, to be able to contribute so much on the show. It’s something we wouldn’t get in class,” said Michel.

Nafas Jdeed, which roughly translates as New Breath, has just entered its second season in April this year. The talk show started out as an alternative programme launched by DRI Lebanon on social media to target youths and marginalized people and invite influential experts who are outspoken to comment on different topics covering politics and democracy in Lebanon.

Dory Abou Jaoude, DRI Lebanon Project Manager, said that it was not an easy task to produce an episode of a political talk show every week. In total, there are 20 episodes in one season. But amidst political instability, economic crisis and unrest in the country, DRI Lebanon believes the programme will be a platform to start a dialogue.

“This is all very new to us, we’ve never worked on a show before,” said Dory. This is why on the first season, DRI Lebanon cast a well-known Lebanese TV personality, Zaven Kouyoumdjian, as the host.

“He’s already famous and has years of experience on TV. He’s also relevant for the youths and we thought it would help to push the show to be better known in season one,” Dory added. The format of the talk show was done with the host sitting on a table with the guests every week in a quite formal setting. They discuss topics ranging from elections, corruption, to women’s political participation.

The reception of the show turned out to be good, with an average of 3000 to 4000 views per episode on DRI Lebanon’s YouTube channel during its first season. With more subscribers religiously tuning in every week, DRI Lebanon decided to change the format for the second season. “We already have viewers, let’s do something more youthful and more fun. Less formal and more easy-going and spontaneous,” Dory stated.

The new format attracted radio show host and journalist, Joseph Tawk, who decided to join as the host of the second season. “I have 15 years of experience in the media, and I’d call this a golden opportunity. Not for me personally, but the opportunity to talk with certain guests carrying the tone of freedom of speech and democracy to tackle a problem,” he said adding that it is not something most TV stations can do.

Joseph worked with the team at DRI Lebanon to slightly modify the format without downgrading the content of the talk show. The second season was designed to be more political, especially with the recent parliamentary election in May and an upcoming municipal election. He said that they tried to simplify the language and have the guest sit with him on an informal setting, to make it more appealing to the youths who are used to watching content on social media like TikTok and Instagram. The second season fares even better than its predecessor with 30000 to 49000 viewers per episode. 

Because youths are the main target audience for the show, a young journalist like Michel is an integral part of Nafas Jdeed. Michel is one of 15 Young Media Makers selected every season to receive training on public speaking, reporting, and investigative journalism, as part of the programme.

“We want them to be involved in the show as much as possible, so in every episode they will do the shooting with the team, ask questions and be part of the project,” said Dory.

The Young Media Maker training became a stepping stone for Joanne Chraim, who was selected as the participant in the first season. She believed that the interaction with expert trainers and seasoned journalists have provided her with the skills and tools for a career in journalism.

“I’m a political science and economics student. Even though I don’t have any background as a journalist yet, being involved in the programme and Nafas Jdeed has pushed me to publish an article and a documentary about the role of Lebanese women in politics,” she said, adding that it is important for the youths to have a platform like Nafas Jdeed.

At the moment, Nafas Jdeed has just released its 8th episode with already more than 11000 viewers on YouTube. Joseph said that the number alone showed the appeal of Nafas Jdeed to the audience. “I think people like the way we handle different topics. At Nafas Jdeed, we are democratic, but we don’t accept democratic answer to the truth, we want (the guests) to tell us things they don’t usually say on TV,” he said.

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