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)
While the media have more freedom in Lebanon than in other countries in the region, they still face political and judicial obstacles. The constitution provides for freedom of the press, and although the media do not face direct interference from the government, political developments in recent years have resulted in increased security risks and self-censorship among journalists. Security services are authorized to censor all foreign magazines, books, and films before they are distributed, as well as pornography and political or religious material deemed a threat to the national security of either Lebanon or Syria. However, the 2005 withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon emboldened critics of the affairs of both countries. Journalists are prohibited from insulting the head of state or foreign leaders, and those charged with press offenses may be prosecuted in a special publications court. In February 2007, the editor in chief of the daily Al-Mustaqbal, Tawfiq Khattab, and journalist Fares Khasan were each fined 50 million Lebanese pounds (US$33,000) for libel and damaging the reputation of the president. The original charges had been filed in February 2006 after Al-Mustaqbal published an interview in which a former intelligence chief and ambassador to France criticized the president’s performance.
Political violence continues to threaten journalists’ safety, and past attacks on the media have gone unpunished. A May 30 UN Security Council resolution creating an international tribunal to prosecute those responsible for assassinating former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri also provided the tribunal with enough jurisdiction to cover the killings and attempted murder of three members of the media in 2005. Car bombings that year killed the daily Al-Nahar’s general manager and columnist Gebran Tueni, as well as another of the paper’s journalists and a prominent academic Samir Qassir. Seriously injured in 2005 was May Chidiac, a talk show host for the satellite-based Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation. The three had been outspoken critics of Syrian influence in Lebanon. At year’s end, the perpetrators of these attacks had yet to be identified or prosecuted.
Reporters complained that the army kept them out of the Nahr el-Bared Palestinian refugee camp, ostensibly for their own safety, after fighting between the army and the militant group Fatah al-Islam broke out in the camp in May. Three photographers—Wael al-Ladifi of Al-Akhbar, Ramzi Haidar of Agence France-Presse, and Assad Ahmad of Al-Balad—and videographer Ali Tahimi of Iran’s Arabic satellite station Al-Alam said Lebanese soldiers assaulted them on May 24 and told them not to film Palestinian refugees fleeing the camp. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Lebanese military officials later called to apologize. Also in May, members of three television crews were attacked by civilians while conducting interviews with local residents at the site of a recent bombing in the town of Aley. The attackers were reportedly presumed to be supporters of anti-Syrian Druze leader Walid Jumblatt.
Lebanon hosts hundreds of periodicals, many of which publish criticism of the government and offer a broad range of opinions. Competition for readers among nearly a dozen daily newspapers is intense. All national daily newspapers are privately owned, as are most television and radio stations, including six television and satellite stations and nearly three dozen radio stations. However, many media outlets are linked to political or sectarian interests that exert significant influence over content. In addition, media outlets have experienced dramatic drops in advertising revenue associated with military conflicts and political crises, including the conflict with Israel in the summer of 2006. Access to satellite television has grown substantially over the last decade, and some 24 percent of the population regularly access the internet, which serves as a relatively free space for individuals and groups to express their beliefs and opinions. The government did not restrict access to the internet in 2007, and there were no reports of government monitoring of websites or e-mail.