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University of Balamand > News > Archive > Re-evaluating Lebanon's Media Laws

Re-evaluating Lebanon's Media Laws

The need to re-evaluate the laws and practices governing media freedom was the subject of a two-day conference organized by the Department of Mass Communication and held at the University of Balamand on May 9 and 10. 

The conference, entitled “Media Freedom: What it is and What is Needed,” included participants such as General Mounir Akiki, Head of the Media Affairs Department in the General Security Forces, Major Susan Haj, Head of the Cybercrime Bureau in the Internal Security Forces, Member of Parliament Ghassan Moukheiber, Ibrahim Awad from the National Audiovisual Council, and Secretary General of the Journalists Union Joseph Akiki. The conference was held under the auspices of the Minister of Information, Ramzi Jreije. 

Representing the University were Judge Emile Azar, a lecturer of Ethics and Law in the Department of Mass Communication, and Assistant Professor Dr. Sleiman Bssawmai. 

In his welcoming speech, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dr. Georges Dorlian said the concern over the question of media freedoms is not new, but remains important. The conference, he made clear, was not being held as a reaction to any recent development concerning the media in Lebanon, but has been in the planning for a number of months. 

Dr. Dorlian further discussed the ceremony held in Lebanon a few days ago, in memory of the martyrs of journalism and explained how journalists charged with contempt by the Special Tribunal on Lebanon will soon go on trial. “Public opinion,” he added, “is now divided regarding the journalism profession and media freedoms.”

However, added Dorlian, “This conference is not an occasion to deliver specific messages nor is it an oratorical exercise because the university is not tied to current events but to principles and ethics,” adding that, “Media are a reflection of the society they belong to, the more the profession of journalism is free and ethical, the more it reflects a free and a civilized image of its society.”

In turn, Judge Emile Azar said that media in all their forms are ineffective without freedom of opinion and expression, as stipulated by the Lebanese constitution and emphasized in international conventions. He also bemoaned the deficiency in media legislation that can help the law regulate freedom of the press. 

He said: “I hope this conference will achieve its objectives aimed to shed light on the reality of media freedom in the midst of all the laws that govern the media field,” adding that new legislations should be enacted in order to keep pace with developments in technology, the professional practices and mentalities. 

For his part, Ibrahim Awad delivered a speech on the behalf of the President of the National Audiovisual Council, Abdel-Hadi Mahfouz, where he called for the stipulation of legislation that protect the right of journalists to access information and resources without being subjected to any pressure. Awad criticized the media in Lebanon that are bound by sectarian quotas, “where they become instruments that promote the interests of the political parties that provide them with funding.”

Addressing the crowd, Mr. Andre Qassas spoke on behalf of the Minister of Information, Ramzi Jreije and praised the organizers of this conference who, “Tried to find a link between media and education, which are complimentary to each other.” 

Qassas stressed the importance of education adding that journalists, who studied the ethics and laws of the profession of journalism, were more aware of the liberties given to them, and were therefore more likely to respect the law.

The second day of the conference began with the issue of media freedoms. The first panel included the participation of General Mounir Akiki, who presented an overview of the work of his department which is responsible for prior censorship of films, theatrical plays, and magazines. General Akiki said he believes that his office imposes censorship on anything that would endanger Lebanon’s security or that is considered ethically unacceptable. Producer Suzanne Dagher, who was asked to comment on General Akiki’s presentation, criticized the censorship on the cinema in what she described as “a threat to the liberty of expression in Lebanon.” 

In the second panel, MP Ghassan Moukheiber, discussed a media law proposal prepared in cooperation with “Maharat” Foundation, which includes organizing the ownership of media institutions to ensure their transparency, proposing a code of ethics for journalists, identifying “media crimes” and the penalties related to them through the law.

Completing the panel, Mr. Joseph Qoussaifi, tackled the challenges facing editors and emphasized the role of the syndicate in supporting their rights. 

Panelist Bassam Alkantar, an established journalist, critiqued the Publications Act and the Syndicate of Editors, which do not recognize electronic media as a form of journalism.  He drew on a  criteria used by the United Nations in  acknowledging electronic media, ranging from the exclusivity and reliability of the information transmitted to the number of human resources handling and working with  it.

The last panel welcomed Internal Security Forces Major Susan Haj who showcased the role of the cybercrime bureau in tracking hackers and illegal websites that promote online poker. She added that the ISF was committed to protecting people and their liberty of expression. Lawyer Guida Frangieh criticized some of the practices of that office, arguing that it was acting outside of any constitutional mandate.  
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