Friday, June 8, 2012

Ghassan Tueni, the press baron I knew

Interviewing the late Ghassan Tueni in the late 1970s

It is with great sadness that I woke up today to the news of the passing of Ghassan Tueni, one of Lebanon’s great statesmen and the most illustrious trailblazer in Lebanese press industry.
It is maybe the end of an era for the many hats he wore as a publisher, editor, writer, ambassador and government minister. It is also a blow to lose one of the staunchest advocates of an independent Lebanon he loved so much.
If you lived the 1975-1990 civil war, you would surely remember how we cheered when, as Lebanon’s ambassador to the United Nations between 1977-1982, he pleaded, roaring at the UN Security Council: “Let my people live!” and then told the UN General Assembly: “My country is not for hire nor for sale!”
Mr. Tueni, who was the owner, publisher and then honorary president and former chairman of the board of Lebanon’s authoritative and independent daily an-Nahar, passed away overnight at the age of 86.
He took over running the publishing house’s newspaper from his father Gebran Tueni and quickly transformed it into Lebanon’s number daily over the past 60 years.
It was always a privilege to walk the few hundred meters from the offices in Wardieh of Monday Morning, the English-language magazine I worked for, to the offices of an-Nahar at the beginning of Hamra Street to interview Mr. Tueni.
I knew that I would come out with a good piece, given his unparalleled understanding of Lebanese and regional politics. His impeccable English made life easy at a time when interviews were still conducted with a tape recorder and notes. His flow of ideas and arguments were always spot on and transcribing and editing the interview was a pleasure. There was always a scoop in what he said that would be picked up by the local and international news agencies.
Not once did he refuse me an interview, always welcoming warmly. We invariably enjoyed sharing our Turkish coffee and cigarettes during the sittings that at times lasted a couple of hours.
Mr. Tueni, a through and through champion of Lebanon’s independence, was publisher/editor and editor-in-chief of an-Nahar from 1948 until 1999. He also served as deputy prime minister and information and education minister in the early seventies.
From 1975 to 1977 he was minister of tourism, social affairs, industry, labor and information. You were never short of interesting Lebanese or regional subjects to interview him about and probe his thoughts.
Rest in Peace Mr. Tueni.
Lebanon will deeply miss your wisdom, insight, honesty and leadership.