Lebanon's Daily Star newspaper 'sacks American journalist' for organising strike after months of unpaid wages
Although the newspaper's management has denied reports that the decision to terminate his contract was linked to any industrial action, Benjamin Redd, a Beirut-based American journalist, said he was fired after trying to organise a strike over the salary non-payment.
"Today I was let go from my job at The Daily Star, my home for almost four years," Redd said on Twitter late on Wednesday.
"I had been helping organise a strike because workers are owed up to half a year's salary - despite the paper being owned by Lebanon's billionaire prime minister".His colleagues have gone on strike in solidarity and at least three others have followed suit and left the paper.
"We understand the dire economic situation of the media industry and of Lebanon generally. We were patient for months, but seeing the value of our (unpaid) wages deteriorating along with the lira, followed by the undeserved dismissal of Benjamin Redd, was the last straw for some of us," tweeted TDS journalist Abby Sewell on Thursday.
According to reports, The Daily Star is part-owned by caretaker PM Saad al-Hariri, who had to resign last month due to mass ongoing protests against alleged government corruption.
But Editor in Chief of the publication Nadim Ladki denied Redd's dismissal had been related to any planned strikes.
"Benjamin Redd was let go when his yearly contract expired this week," Ladki told The New Arab.
"Due to his relatively high salary and extra cost of his residency and work permit, we decided not to renew his contract during this difficult financial situation. That was our only consideration," he claimed.
But the newspaper's journalists say they had been planning a strike for months. Some had been working without salaries for almost half the year. Redd's termination on Wednesday caused them to finally decide to go ahead with the strike on Thursday.
"The strike really was a collective effort, not one specific person. It's interesting because the editorial team wasn't agreeing on what day to actually go on strike - some people wanted to strike today and other wait to hear about the payments again and possibly strike next week," said an anonymous TDS employee who handed in their resignation after news of Redd's sacking.
"What ignited it was the upper management firing Ben after we finished meeting [to organise the strike]."
The journalist said they had not been paid for five months, and that TDS management failed to communicate to staffers when they would receive their salaries.
"It was always 'next week' or 'next month', but it was never a clear answer and plan on when the money would arrive....even though we've asked numerous times about where the money comes from and for other possible solutions but we never got a straightforward answer. Our answers were always met with Zero transparency," they said.
|It was hard to leave the team. I've never met such a tight knit group in a newsroom|
Alongside Redd and the anonymous journalist, two other TDS employees said they have resigned following senior management's decision.
"I have resigned my position at The Daily Star over the dismissal of my colleague Benjamin Redd," tweeted Timour Azhari on Thursday.
"Employees at the paper were willing to go many months without pay because we love what we do and felt a responsibility to our readers. But we also have a responsibility towards each other."
When asked about employee salaries, editor-in-chief Ladki said: "Several Lebanese media organisations are currently facing big challenges to meet their expenditure, including meeting timely payments of salaries. We at The Daily Star have been facing such problems over the past six months, which led to the payment of partial salaries, while committing to the payment of the outstanding amounts as soon as possible."
The TDS journalists strike comes as Lebanon's journalism industry is being hit hard by the country's financial crisis, which predates the protest movement.
Lebanese broadcaster, Future Television, owned by Hariri, left its employees work without pay for a year before letting them go and shutting down, joining several other media outlets shuttered since 2011.
The economic crisis in Lebanon is already causing officials to warn of dire social collapse, with unemployment, poverty and even suicide rates expected to widen as the country faces uncertain times.
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