BEIRUT: Press freedoms experienced a setback in Lebanon last year largely due to the politicization of the Syrian conflict, according to a report that documents 91 media and cultural freedom violations in 2012.
The report issued Tuesday by SKeyes, the Center for Media and Cultural Freedom at the Samir Kassir Foundation, found that despite several violations, authorities made progress in protecting cultural freedoms in the country, but press freedoms suffered an across-the-board drop.
“The number of censorship decisions decreased, although not enough, and the judiciary ruled in favor of artists in all cases related to freedom of expression this year,” the report said.
More notably, the increased tension from the Syrian conflict caused another year of deterioration of press freedom.
“On the other hand, journalists, reporters and photographers were – more than anywhere else in the region – treated violently by both official security services and nonstate actors. Most importantly, no action was taken to hold the perpetrators of such attacks accountable,” the report added.
SKeyes publishes a yearly report that offers one of the most detailed reviews of press violations in the country. The latest report documented 91 incidents that ranged from the storming of television stations to website hackings.
The most notable event was the fatal shooting in April of Al-Jadeed Television cameraman Ali Shaaban, according to the report.
The station maintains that he was killed by the Syrian army while reporting on clashes along the border.
SKeyes reported that the Syrian government gathered information on journalists who showed support for the uprising, and threats were made against the ones that reported on it.
Nonstate actors played a large role in the violations as well, with numerous incidents of beatings and gunfire targeting Lebanese journalists, which went unpunished.
The report documented the arrest and beating of journalist Rami Aysha by Hezbollah members and several instances of gunfire targeting journalists in Tripoli, as they covered flare-ups of civil strife.
It also decried the judiciary’s lax attitude in several media-related cases, such as the attack on Al-Jadeed in June. A group of young men set tires alight in front of the station’s offices after it aired an interview with Sidon-based Sheikh Ahmad Assir.
The major positive development over the year was due to the judicial system throwing out charges against artists and journalists, protecting cultural freedom.
“While no legal action was taken against people who assaulted journalists, the justice system played a positive role in defending artistic and cultural freedoms,” the report added.
Judges threw out charges against bloggers and human rights activists for their anti-Syrian regime graffiti. The courts also halted criminal proceedings against comedians Edmund Haddad and Rawiya al-Chab for failing to respect public morals in their stand-up comedy shows.
The report noted that “movie theaters stopped screening the film Tannoura Maxi until several scenes were modified or censored following pressure exerted by the Catholic Information Center on General Security. Unfortunately, nonstate censorship increased in scale in 2012.”