Freedom of Speech and Press

Like the United States, Lebanon has an article in their constitution which protects freedom of speech and press-  at least partly. According to a publication called “Freedom of the Press 2011” it states that in Lebanon “media rarely faces direct interference from the government.” However, under Article 75 of the Lebanese constitution it clearly states that it is against the law to publish something which goes against public ethics. Media professionals are also considered breaking the law if they insult the head of state or other various foreign leaders. Journalists in Lebanon must also adhere to libel laws which were enacted to keep reporters from “criticizing officials.” If someone is found to have broken these laws then they will face fines, or if the person who committed a press crime is a journalist then they are eligible to be prosecuted in a “special publications court.” These “special” trials are less common in Lebanon than in neighboring countries. In Lebanon prison sentences may also be given out to people who publish an article committing committing a more serious offense: blasphemy.

The Audiovisual Media Law in Lebanon “divides broadcast media into two categories with different purposes and rights.” Stations sorted into Category One have permission to broadcast news and politics, while on the other hand Category Two stations are not allowed to do so. The Audiovisual Law also puts a limit on the “amount of political coverage in broadcast media.” Many people argue that Lebanon’s media laws are outdated and should be more accommodating. In fact, Lebanon was the first Arab State to permit private news and information stations to broadcast within their borders.

Lebanon frequently deals with draft bills emerging that attempt to constrict free speech for its citizens. The U.S. similarly continues to also deal with such bills, such as the recently proposed ( and widely protested) Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) that congress tried to pass in January of 2012. These two bills contained segments that many feared would harm freedom of speech on the internet. As Congress considered passing SOPA and PIPA many protests, both public and online, emerged. One of the most notable protests was Wikipedia shutting down for 24 hours in an attempt to communicate how dire the situation at hand was.

People who visited Wikipedia during the 24 hour shut down were greeted by this message.

One large difference between domestic Lebanese journalism versus domestic journalism in the United States is that many journalists in Lebanon must deal with violence due to their profession. Journalists face threats not only as repercussions for what they may have written, but also as a latent effect of reporting in a country that has, unfortunately, seen much conflict. In 2010 there were 13 cases of assaults on journalists, and even one reported death attributed to “Israeli tank fire.”

Lebanese journalists gather to remember a fallen reporter in 2005.

Lebanon has a “diverse and privatized media landscape” which consists of 12 privately owned newspapers that are produced daily, and over 1,500 weekly and monthly publications. The Lebanese media landscape, which makes up about 50 percent of the periodicals available in the Middle East, is free of state control.

The similarities between the U.S. and Lebanese media laws are clear, libel is looked down upon and punishable. There are also attempts to lessen the power of free speech among citizens, but those attempts to censor speech are continually prevented. The only issue with Lebanese Free Speech Laws is that one cannot “criticize officials.” Freedom of speech is an all or nothing topic, one can either say what they want to communicate in the fashion of their choosing or they cannot. To be considered a country which has true freedom of speech, in every sense of the phrase, Lebanon would have to remove the clause stating that high ranking leaders may not be critiqued without censorship or punishment.


One thought on “Freedom of Speech and Press

  1. In 1965, Lebanese President Helou passed the “law of kings and heads of state” which basically protected all Arab rulers from the wrath of the Lebanese press. Basically, the press cannot criticize them. This is one of the bunch of outdated media laws in Lebanon which hinder the practice of “full” freedom of speech.

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