The Alternative Syndicate of Press (ASP): Koubeissi’s nomination is not to reserve a seat at the Syndicate, but to establish the right to liberate the Lebanese Press Editors Syndicate (LPES)!

On the eve of the upcoming elections at the LPES, the ASP held a press conference, Tuesday afternoon in Beirut, to discuss the reason behind journalist Elissar Koubeissi’s candidacy for the LEPS’ elections, the reasons for demanding that the elections be monitored, and the required reforms in the media laws and the LPES’ internal bylaws.

The assembly also clarified its position on the situation of the media in light of a syndicate “subordinated to the ruling authority”, while announcing the launch of a battle for the independence of the media sector: Koubeissi’s nomination is not an act aimed at reserving a seat at the LPES, but rather to establish the right to liberate it.

The ASP, an opposition union movement, was established following the 2019 17th of October uprising. 

It announced that its conference falls within “the framework of the ongoing legal and human rights battle it is waging to protect the rights of workers in the media sector, to guarantee the right to monitor the elections in the LPES, and to reject employers’ control over the union. It is also an announcement of the ASP’s reservation about the LPES’ representative legitimacy, at the time when the majority of journalists cannot join it, and to highlight key points in the ASP’s actions during the upcoming stage.” 

I am running for these reasons 

Journalist Elissar Koubeissi announced that she is a candidate for the LPES elections. “I am running to preserve our right to monitor the LPES’ elections, of which I am a member. The previous electoral cycles were marred by many violations, as wis hat is happening in the current elections. These violations affected me personally.”

And about her experience of running for candidacy, she said: “When I expressed my desire to obtain the Syndicate’s list in accordance with the bylaws, and in pursuit of my candidacy for the elections, my demand was rejected, and my application was not received. They tried to underestimate and intimidate me by telling me: “It is very brave of you to run!” 

And she explained, “When I repeated my request for the Syndicate list, in an official letter through the notary, the request was answered with a threat in the form of letter telling me that punitive behavioral and judicial measures will be taken against me, warning me against any judicial adventure, while fabricating words I did not say.”

And she declared, “the journalists’ affiliation with the LPES is not a favor from the president or the Syndicate’s council. It is an acquired right for all workers in the sector, a right confiscated by the Syndicate through its successive councils. It has become discretionary and is not subject to any clear and transparent criteria or deadlines. It will be the main aim of our next battle with the LEPS, to restore the right of all journalists to join their Syndicate.”

The ASP also presented a video report -prepared by journalist Tayma Reda- uncovering the violations of the LPES, and the reasons behind a demand to monitor the elections which it supervises.

Necessary reforms

The Legal advisor to the ASP, lawyer Farouk Al-Moughrabi, outlined the necessary reforms for an effective syndicate. Al-Moughraby said: “In order for the media to play its role as a fourth authority, there are basic reforms that must be introduced into the Publications Law, any new media law, and the internal bylaws of the LPES.” Al-Moughraby presented the top 10 required reforms, which are: 

1- Repealing the old Publications law and issuing a contemporary media law. And by “contemporary”, we do not mean the currently proposed media law, which is being discussed in parliamentary committees. 

2- Abolishing the imprisonment penalty for journalists in the Publications Law or in any new media law. 

3- Abolishing the dominance of newspaper owners over editors, which is taking place through the chairing of the head of the Lebanese Press Syndicate (LPS) the Federation of Lebanese Press (FLP), along with the joint committees between the LPS and the LPES, including: the Syndicate Affiliation Committee, which decides which journalist can join the LPES or not, at its own whim and without any clear deadlines. In addition to the disciplinary board which takes punitive measures which can lead to dismissal. 

4- Banning press managers from running for the LPES Council due to the conflict of interests this manifests.

5- Repealing the clauses which make the head of the LEPS the absolute authority over the Syndicate: his/her chairing the LEPS’ Elections Supervisory Committee even when he is a candidate, his/her right to seek the assistance of the Internal Security Forces to impose order in public assemblies in the event of a “riot”, and his/her right to refer a journalist to the Disciplinary Council, in case the head of the Syndicate was subjected to any abuse. This council is made up of the members of the LEPS’ Council, which implicates their bias in this situation. 

6- Allowing all workers in the media sector to freely join the LEPS, especially free-lancers, by: Abolishing the affiliation condition which demands having joined the National Social Security Fund. And determining the criteria for proving the practice of profession, in order for the LEPS to limit clientelism and unfair treatment. 

7- Abolition of the punitive provisions from the new media law, which limit freedom of the press and prevent journalists from addressing the President of the Republic with any criticism, along with members of the private sector who participate in corrupting the public sector, ambassadors of foreign countries and the deals they might cut, and the proceedings of the Cabinet meetings. 

8- Ensuring the independence of the Media Regulatory Committee: its election should not take place at the Parliament, and its independence should be guaranteed, since it is granted powers which allows it to become the political authority’s surveillance and control arm over freedom of expression. 

9- Amending the registration procedure for media institutions in the new media law, because the principle of prior authorization and the conditions currently in place will force international stations to move their offices abroad, it will encourage and support clientelism and biased treatment and the procedure will be subject to the logic of sectarian quotas and corruption. It will also give the ruling authority the ability to control who can or cannot work in the media sector, and will restrict the ability of establishing media institutions to highly rich individuals.

10- Abolishing the Federation of the Lebanese Press (FLP) from the new media law, in a similar way to what was proposed by Minister Melhem Riachy’s draft law, which organizes the LEPS.

ASP’s position 

The coordinator of the ASP, journalist Elsy Moufarrej, announced in her speech the assembly’s position on the reality of the media in light of a syndicate which is subordinate to the ruling authority.”

She added: “In the last two years, at least, where was the Syndicate during the crisis of the arbitrary expulsion of the Daily Star journalists, and when the job description of hundreds of journalists was changed in their contracts, and their salaries were reduced and their livelihoods threatened? Where was the LEPS when attacks on journalists or media teams were carried out by the ruling authority’s institutions or its militias? What did it do about the journalists’ calls for investigation at the security services? How did it stand by the journalists after the August 4, 2020 explosion, which caused a psychological shock to all those who covered the disaster?” 

And she concluded, “We announce the start of the confrontation with the LEPS, and behind it the political authority and its project to consolidate its control over the media and the establishment of a police state. Our speech is directed towards the ruling authority in specific: the pretense that Lebanon is a country of media freedom will be uncovered. This is a battle we ask all our colleagues and allies in human rights organizations to support. Because the battle for the independence of the media as an authority is no less important than the battle for the independence of the judiciary authority, because it is a fundamental battle in the endeavours of building a state, in which people have absolute value, and their rights and freedom are indivisible, and no authority dares to harm them as long as the media is free and independent.” 

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