On World Press Freedom Day, May 3, 2023, the Alternative Press Syndicate launched two studies on media freedoms in Lebanon and on the conditions of workers in the media sector. The research was conducted over two years. It included questionnaires on employment, economic, physical and psychological conditions from a sample of workers in various media fields. It also included surveys on the attacks and violations faced by journalists, including censorship, repression, the influence of money and politics, and the extent to which relevant unions protect them. The two studies concluded with recommendations for media institutions, human rights organizations, labor unions, and legislative bodies in Lebanon.
Media Workers in Lebanon
Three-Dimensional Insecurity: Financial, Physical and Psychological
Research: Nay El-Rahi
The situation of media workers is inseparable from the situation of all citizens in Lebanon in the midst of the economic, financial and social collapse. Between 2019 and 2021, violent incidents exposed the chronic fragility of the situation of media workers, amid demonstrations that were met with repression, an explosion that destroyed half of Beirut, and the Covid-19 pandemic, which altogether alongside the collapse constituted a “double catastrophe.” Media workers found themselves facing an arduous task that required covering serious events, without adequate support and backing from their institutions, without guarantees that their losses during work would be covered, and without personal and psychological support. In addition, Lebanon lacks precise figures on the media outlets in operation, the number of workers within them, and those who were laid off. At the same time, figures by established unions (when and if available) do not include all workers in the sector. This study started with a questionnaire to 127 media workers, and collected the experiences of 21 journalists, with the aim of conducting a preliminary survey of their living conditions, and economic and social realities since the start of the economic crisis. Based on the sample of respondents, the study concluded that 72% do not feel that their physical safety is a priority in their media institutions; most of them have not undergone physical safety or “hostile environment” training and do not have special protective equipment such as helmets and protective vests; the majority of them did not receive any psychological support in their institutions (even after the violence witnessed on the streets and during the explosion of August 4, 2020); 21% of them were earning less than two million pounds in 2021; the majority do not feel they have job security; photographers are forced to repair their equipment at their own expense; 20% of them heard testimonies from women colleagues who were subjected to sexual harassment or blackmail at work.
Media Freedoms in Lebanon: A Struggle on the Margins
Research: Doja Daoud
Although the Lebanese constitution guarantees freedom of expression and despite the fact that Lebanon signed the treaties that enshrine media freedom, the latter still collides with obstacles and untouchable institutions of “eminence” that place restrictions on content and discourse and limit opportunities for change. With the increasing fear that Lebanon is slipping into deeper repression that could become the sanctioned norm, the media workers who were polled in the study agreed that their freedom exists on the margins and varies based on the circumstances of the country. Most of them are aware that struggling for media freedom is necessary to expand it.
The study showed the impact of funding on freedom of the press. In many cases, funding places restrictions on media outlets and affects the journalists’ quality of work. The study also showed the extent to which political funding interferes in imposing editorial policies or daily censorship of media work.
This can be summarized in the following points:
Funding sources are divided as follows: organizations (18%), political parties (6%), countries (23%), politicians or influential people (8%), banks (6%), advertisements (25%), audiences (14%). This could impose restrictions on which topics are covered by journalists, especially as it pertains to corruption and exposing violations.
Funding may influence editorial policies and public discourse.
New media outlets are trying to find different business models. They are also looking for donors close to their area of specialization and those who provide unconditional funding, as to maintain their independence.
The study drew a map of the repression against the media:
Journalists are exposed to violations for carrying out their work, starting with repression and prevention of coverage or physical assault, and reaching threats (the most prominent violation according to the respondents), intimidation, censorship, extortion, piracy and electronic incitement.
One of the results of the harassment and violations is the increasing trend towards self-censorship among journalists, which poses a threat to their freedom and to their knowledge. The lack of accountability contributes to perpetuating these violations.
Violations against journalists are escalating and reaching a level that threatens their lives. The absence of accountability amid a history of assassinations has led to the reinforcement of impunity and opened the door for the recurrence of crimes.
Summons for investigation by security agencies, including the Cybercrime Bureau, is one of the most prominent violations against journalists, and prosecutions over their work by the Court of Publications and the Military Court is one of the most prominent challenges facing journalistic freedom.
The parties that violate the freedom of the press vary between political, partisan, security, religious, judicial and administrative, and the pattern of relying on an “angry public” tied to powerful forces to physically attack journalists is growing.
Journalists are subjected to censorship by all the violating parties, most notably by the administrative bodies of their media organizations.
Among the unreported violations are sexual harassment and assault.
The study showed that laws and legislation, as well as the bodies entrusted with the task of regulating the media sector, may be obstacles to the sector’s freedom and pluralism.
The law places restrictions on the establishment of media entities, specifically newspapers which are restricted to those with special privileges, and broadcast channels that require prior authorization and an exorbitant amount of money, which constitutes a threat to media pluralism and limits the ownership of the media to those with wealth.
Although there are attempts by workers in the media sector to form trade unions that protect them, discretionary and legal obstacles prevent the unification of the media and hinder solidarity among its workers, and in turn reduces the protection of their rights and freedoms.
Journalists are still being prosecuted criminally in Lebanon under articles that include the penalty of imprisonment. There are also ongoing prosecutions on charges of libel, slander and defamation.
Concerns are now emerging about a new draft media law that still prescribes prison terms.
These statistics represent the opinions of the journalists polled in the sample
69% There are no media freedoms in Lebanon
60% Financial control over the media always suppresses our freedom
75% Have experienced some form of repression
97% The unions do not represent us, but represent the authorities
- To promote a rights-based culture among media workers in Lebanon, and to raise awareness about the laws regulating their work and the rights guaranteed by the constitution and international covenants.
- To push for the removal of articles criminalizing publication, expression and opinion from laws, especially the Penal Code, and to prevent the prosecution or imprisonment of journalists on the grounds of their work.
- To adopt a new law that guarantees media freedom and protects journalists from political targeting, exploitation, and prosecution.
- To reduce politicians’ control over the media by limiting the percentage of their shares in any media institution (to be enacted in the new media law).
- To self-regulate the media sector, and limit the role of current organizational entities to technical matters.
- To build solidarity among journalists and encourage them to engage in trade union work, and to establish a trade union for workers in various media sectors.
- To establish unified mechanisms for reporting violations, including sexual harassment and discrimination, and adopt policies to deal with cases of violations on the basis of sex and gender, whether within the workplace or in the field.