The announcement of the death of Ghassan Tueni, who died in Beirut on Friday, 8th June, after a long battle with illness, was met with a heavy sadness in the pages of leading newspapers and prominent online blogs across the globe. The passing of “one of the last titans of an era that is indelibly imprinted with his name and signature” – a sentiment expressed by his granddaughter Nayla but echoed in the hearts of all who knew him – is noted with particular sobriety by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers given the strong ties between the organisation and the Tueni family from over three decades of close collaboration.
Despite great personal tragedy, Ghassan Tueni’s immense dedication to the cause of freedom and democracy, and his unwavering support and commitment to the ideals of a free and independent press, have been a source of inspiration and a rallying call for all who had the honour and the privilege to work alongside him. Through his fearless writing, impassioned oration and principled reasoning, Ghassan Tueni embodied the very best of humankind; his impact across journalism, politics and international diplomacy will continue immeasurably for many years to come in all those for whom the flame of dignity, justice and truth burns brighter as a result of his legacy.
A formidable publisher who sat at the helm of his family’s An-Nahar newspaper forover six decades, Ghassan Tueni encouraged young journalists to work alongside him as equals and enjoyed in-depth knowledge of every element of his newspaper’s inner workings. He wanted An-Nahar to be a beacon for the region, standing for quality journalism, fierce editorial independence and uncompromising ethical standards. Amidst a climate of dangerous mistrust and escalating political, religious and ethnic tensions, Ghassan Tueni hoped the public would come to rely on his newspaper as a safe port in the turbulent storm of Lebanese society.
Throughout his life, Ghassan Tueni regularly showed his defiant commitment to an independent Lebanon along with an indefatigable willingness to defend his – and others’- right to freedom of expression. Airing his views in the editorial pages of An-Nahar, he made it a paper of reference for those seeking truth and wider understanding during the many years of civil war and foreign intervention that scars Lebanon still to this day. In 1978, in his role as ambassador to the United Nations, Ghassan Tueni uttered his now-famous plea before the UN Security Council: “Let my people live.” Through his journalism, he would repeat this call for a further three decades, so committed was he to the sovereignty and independence of the country he loved, and for which he ultimately sacrificed so much.
For, as much as An-Nahar and the Tueni family became symbols of Lebanese defiance, it also made them targets for powerful, often foreign elements that disagreed. Tragedy struck with the assassination of Gebran Tueni, Ghassan Tueni’s eldest son. Gebran – an immense figure in his own right and a devoted and widely loved board member of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers – was every bit cast from the same mold as his father; before a car bomb brutally cut-short his brilliant life, Gebran had become a prominent and outspoken advocate for democracy and freedom of expression as well as an inspirational leader of the newspaper his namesake and grandfather had founded. Speaking at his son’s funeral in December 2005, Ghassan Tueni issued a plea to assembled mourners: “Let us bury hatred and revenge along with Gebran,” he said.
That Ghassan Tueni lived to witness the beginnings of a region-wide Arab revolution is something for which we are immensely thankful, given the numerous struggles against oppression he fought all his life. Many commentators suggest that, during a period in the latter part of the 20th Century when defiance was a dangerous position to adopt, Ghassan Tueni was one of the figures to have sewn the seeds of today’s Arab ‘Spring’. He may well have modestly declined the accolade, but there can be no bigger testimony to the legacy of such a great man than the success of the Arab revolutions and with them the long-term commitment to democracy, justice and peace in a region above which the spirit of Ghassan Tueni will forever rest.