BEIRUT: Lebanon’s political divisions are “unduly” echoed in the country’s media, a report by an international media watchdog has said.
Although Lebanon is home to the freest and most diverse media in the Arab world, its newspapers, news websites and television channels regularly play into the country’s deep-seated political and sectarian schisms, the International Press Institute (IPI) said in its annual World Press Freedom Review, released last week.
The Austria-based organization said that it led a press-freedom mission to Lebanon in October 2009, when it noted that television outlets in particular mirrored the country’s political landscape.
“Most of Lebanon’s media outlets are unduly influenced in their journalism content by powerful political figures to whom they are financially and politically beholden,” the review said.
“Although there are many excellent media organizations in Lebanon, the politicization of the media means that, too often, journalists are forced to choose between their natural desire for credibility and their loyalty to a media organization,” IPI quoted its director David Dadge as saying following the mission.
Journalists have enjoyed relative security in the last few years, though IPI noted at least two journalists were arrested and prosecuted under criminal defamation laws. The organization also said that others were assaulted and intimidated. “One journalist was accused of insulting the president [Michel Sleiman] during a television interview in which he criticized the head of state for his apparent inability to speed up the formation of a government,” the review added.
It also noted a report by the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, which said Lebanon, along with Egypt, tapped more communication lines than any other country in the Arab region.
IPI’s review comes hot on the heels of a more critical press freedom report by The SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom, published earlier this month. The report detailed a string of assaults and unfair dismissals of journalists and other media workers, and said the Lebanese media, under pressure from political and religious parties, exercised self-censorship.
“Lebanon is still tightening its grip in terms of censoring certain people, certain films or cutting certain scenes from films,” the SKeyes report said. Dozens of politically-motivated lawsuits have also been lodged against journalists, who mostly face slander charges.
The most recent recorded attack on the media was in January, when environmental journalists Rabih Mouwanes and Mounir Haydamous were beaten and forcibly detained in Ain Dara in the Chouf while trying to report on an illegal sand and rock quarry.
In the report, IPI said that with 110 journalists killed, 2009 had been the deadliest year in a decade for media workers. The majority of deaths took place in Asia, where 55 journalists were killed, followed by Latin America, where 28 died. Some 14 journalist deaths took place in Africa while six perished in the Middle East. In the past decade, 735 journalists have been killed worldwide, IPI said.
According to an index published in October by the media monitor Reporters without Borders, Lebanon ranked 61 out of 175 in the world in terms of press freedom in 2009, coming second regionally after Kuwait.