Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Lebanon's press freedom score remained relatively unchanged in 2005, as the greater press openness that followed the assassination of Rafik Hariri in February was offset by a series of violent attacks against journalists critical of Syrian involvement in Lebanon. The constitution provides for freedom of the press, though the government restricts this right in practice. A 1991 security agreement bans all media activity that might harm Syria, and strict defamation and security laws prohibit criticism of top leaders; however, political events in 2005 encouraged Lebanese media to challenge these restrictions. Journalists and publications accused of press offenses may be prosecuted in a special publications court. Security services are authorized to censor all foreign magazines, books, and films before they are distributed in Lebanon. The government continues to take steps to limit journalists, though with less impact than before, as the diversity of media outlets and the momentum of political events have made it increasingly difficult to restrict press coverage.
The press became bolder in its criticism of the government following the resignation of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2004. Hariri's assassination in February 2005 sent shock waves through Lebanese society and galvanized the media to challenge further long-standing taboos against criticizing Syrian involvement in Lebanon. The media played an important role in mobilizing mass participation in the pro- and anti-Syrian demonstrations and expediting the Syrian withdrawal. Media outlets continue to provide in-depth coverage of the UN's investigation into the assassination and Syrian-Lebanese relations.
This opening in the Lebanese media environment was quickly followed by a crackdown with serious consequences for some journalists in the latter half of the year. In June, anti-Syrian Al-Nahar columnist Samir Qassir was killed in a car bomb. In September, May Chidiac, a host of a political talk show and an outspoken critic of Syrian involvement in Lebanon, survived an attack but lost an arm and a leg when explosives detonated beneath her car. Also in September, journalist Ali Ramez Tohme, who had recently published a book on Hariri, escaped an assassination attempt. Charles Ayoub, pro-Syrian owner and editor of Al-Diyar, an Arabic daily, faced government scrutiny as well as official and unofficial harassment after publishing details related to Hariri's assassination and could serve up to two years in prison. Finally, in December Gebran Tueni, managing director of the independent daily Al-Nahar and an opposition member of parliament, was killed along with three others in an explosion that targeted his vehicle.
A degree of economic freedom exists in the media, though licensing of new print and broadcast media is highly politicized and prohibitively expensive. Lebanon features dozens of newspapers and hundreds of periodicals, many of which publish criticism of the government. All national daily newspapers are privately owned, as are most television and radio stations, including six independent television and satellite stations and nearly three dozen independent radio stations. In August, the Parliament passed a bill that would allow Murr TV to resume broadcasting after a three-year ban. However, many media outlets are linked to political and/or confessional interests that exert significant influence over content. Election monitors criticized press coverage of the 2005 parliamentary elections for imbalanced reporting, with media outlets generally favoring candidates who shared their political outlook. Access to satellite television has grown substantially over the last decade, and unrestricted internet access is widely available.