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SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

Commemorating Ashura Day at Al-Madina Theatre in the Lebanese Media

Monday , 13 February 2023

Theatre director and actress Nidal Al-Achkar announced that Ashura mourning ceremonies would be held at Al-Madina Theatre in Beirut’s Hamra Street between August 1 and 9, 2022. Media publications mentioned that Sheikh Hussein Zeineddine gave daily lectures at these events, while reciter Abdallah Fahs presided over the ceremony.

The news sparked a wave of outrage on social media platforms, as Al-Madina Theatre has historically featured progressive performances, while the two Shia clerics mentioned earlier are known for their ultra-conservative positions. The controversy prompted several media outlets to cover the story, particularly when theatre owner – actress Al-Achkar – stated that she does not turn down any requests at Al-Madina Theatre, stressing that the venue is an open space where no one can be excluded. She also added that the commemoration of Ashura is part of the national heritage. She pointed out that Ashura commemorations comprise stories and lectures rather than flagellation and blood.

The report relied on a quantitative monitoring mechanism for the section related to professional media, focusing on the number and type of articles tackling the subject. The report analyses how the various articles covered the issue, the types of sources journalists relied on, and whether they adopted a political or religious angle. The report also examined the interest of media platforms in the broader event – commemorating Ashura Day – through documenting the number and type of articles published in this regard. This shows the space such platforms grant to the religious aspect in the broader framework and compares it to the space allocated to the coverage of the specific event studied in the current report.

In the effort to be as accurate and efficient as possible in the monitoring efforts, SKF is collaborating with a specialized data analysis company, Reputell, with access to large amounts of data, as well as the software to sort through it and get the relevant content. This process renders it safer to understand whether or not the case study’s events were reflected in the online arena and if so, how. It is also important to note that this report is not meant to represent a comprehensive view of the digital landscape but to highlight prominent actors, the platforms used, and possible patterns as true to life as possible.

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