May Chidiac, one of the best-known commentators on Lebanese television, is an indomitable journalist who, quite literally, puts her life on the line every time she goes on the air. Long outspoken against Syria’s political and military involvement in Lebanon, she was nearly killed on September 25, 2005, when suspected Syrian agents planted a remote-controlled bomb on the underside of her Range Rover. Yet ten months and twenty-six surgeries later, with a prosthetic hand and leg, she was back on the airwaves of the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation with a new weekly current events program, Bikol Joraa (With Audacity). As host and executive producer, she conducts the hard-hitting interviews for which she is best known and becomes “the voice of those…who were killed and didn’t have the chance to escape.” Today, despite her injuries, Chidiac remains defiantly outspoken about all the regional forces at play in Lebanon. In October 2006, she was awarded the UNESCO World Press Freedom Prize and the Courage in Journalism Award from the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF), and since 1999 she has been a member of the humanities–communication arts faculty of Notre Dame University in Lebanon, where she urges her students to search for the truth. Though Chidiac’s would-be assassins are still at large, she refuses to live in fear. “Nothing is able to silence me. I’m not the kind of person who can be silenced.”
Chidiac is the eldest of three daughters born (on June 20, 1963) to a Lebanese businessman and his wife. Her father died when she was thirteen and her only brother died three years later.
She began her college career as a mathematics student, changing her major to journalism in response to the civil war that had broken out in Lebanon between Christians and Muslims. In 1985 Chidiac began working as an editor and news anchor at the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation—a television network established during the civil war as a media outlet for the Lebanese Forces Christian militia. (Today, the LBC is the most popular television channel in Lebanon and, after Al-Jazeera, the second most watched channel in the Middle East, according to the Columbia Journalism Review.) By the nineties, Chidiac had become one of Lebanon’s best-known Christian commentators. “I lived through all the phases, all the chapters of this war that we had in Lebanon,” she has said. “I want my country to be free from all occupation and to recover its sovereignty for good and forever.”
Blonde and charismatic, Chidiac has a riveting on-air presence—and a knack for asking questions that others shy away from. Her history of on-air remarks criticizing Syria for stationing troops in Lebanon made her vulnerable to death threats; on her final broadcast before the attempt on her life, she discussed the possible involvement of Syria in the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005. (His death triggered the Cedar Revolution, a chain of demonstrations and civic actions designed to obtain the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, the establishment of an international commission to investigate Hariri’s assassination, and the organization of free parliamentary elections.)
Chidiac was the third Lebanese journalist targeted by car bombers in 2005 and the only one to survive. The others, Samir Kassir, a columnist for the newspaper An Nahar, and Gebran Tueni, An Nahar’s publisher, were killed instantly. (In an especially prescient interview Chidac conducted with Tueni only months before his assassination, the publisher spoke of living and dying for one’s beliefs.)
Chidiac’s would-be assassins followed her to a friend’s house and placed a magnetized bomb on the underside of her car. When she returned to the car and got in, the bomb was detonated.
“At first, I didn’t know about my leg,” said Chidiac, recalling the moments directly after the accident, when paramedics arrived on the scene. “I saw my hand cut, it was still hanging by a small piece of flesh, but I didn’t know that it was damaged a lot and [I] was pointing to my hand hoping they could keep it.” It was not to be; Chidiac lost her left hand and left leg and suffered burns over much of her body.
She underwent twenty-six surgeries (followed by rigorous physical therapy at a rehabilitation center near Paris) over the course of the next year. Today, she still experiences physical discomfort, including severe backaches (due in part to the metal rod placed in her back during one of the surgeries), yet she refuses to let her injuries interfere with her work.
The English translation of Chidiac’s current television show, Bikol Joraa, is “With Audacity.” “I’ve chosen it because of the spirit of my program,” she said. “I invite my guests and ask them to speak freely and with courage.”
Her personal quest for the truth is constant: “I take all the information I can find in the newspapers, all the information I can get from everywhere, and I dare to put the light on all this information.”
Since her return to the airwaves in 2006, Chidiac has continued to interview leaders from her country and abroad; in October 2006 she did a one-on-one interview with Condoleeza Rice, asking the U.S. secretary of state some especially tough questions about Shiites, Hezbollah, Syrian opposition, and Israel. On May 3, 2007, she was awarded the Legion of Honor at the Élysée Palace by French president Jacques Chirac.
Recently Chidiac has been considering a political career and a possible run for parliament in 2009. In October 2006 she was honored with the Courage in Journalism Award, given by the International Women’s Media Foundation
May Chidiac will simply not be discouraged. “I kept on doing my job with no fear, ready for any danger I might face,” she says. “I cannot be afraid of being attacked again. I’m still thinking that I have a cause to defend. It’s the cause of Lebanon.”