Committee to Protect Journalists
Country Report: Lebanon
As of December 31,1998

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One year after imposing prior censorship on news and political programming broadcast abroad by private television stations, the cabinet of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri went a step further by banning the practice of broadcasting political programming abroad in January. The move immediately followed a live television interview with Najah Wakim, an opposition member of parliament, broadcast on the private station LBCI in which Wakim excoriated Hariri and the government on a wide range of topics.

A variety of laws and decrees continued to threaten journalists in both the print and broadcast media. Decree 7997 (enacted in 1996) bans stations from broadcasting news that seeks to "inflame or incite sectarian or religious chauvinism," or which contains "slander, disparagement, disgrace, [or] defamation," while the Audiovisual Law (1994) empowers the Ministry of Information to close television and radio stations that violate these and other equally ambiguous statutes. Authorities continued to use criminal defamation statutes against outspoken journalists, and reined in undesirable criticism by banning foreign publications.

In November, parliament elected Gen. Emile Lahoud as the country's 11th president since independence, replacing Elias Hrawi. Lahoud's election was a cause for optimism among journalists as the new president pledged his commitment to the protection of press freedom. In late December, Lahoud publicly promised that he would not invoke criminal libel statutes against critical journalists as his predecessor had done. "Whatever is published against me, the final judge will be my actions," he said in a newspaper interview, "and if I'm able to prove that what is being published or said is wrong with actions, why should I care about what is said, especially if it is criticism on a personal level?"

Regardless of Lahoud's policies, Lebanon's journalists will have to contend with Syria's ongoing military presence, which continues to interfere with independent reporting. Since Syrian troops entered the country in 1976, the heavy-handed and arbitrary practices of Syrian security forces have instilled fear among the press, and journalists largely avoid any meaningful criticism of Syrian President Hafez al-Assad and Syria's controversial presence in Lebanon.
Attacks on the Press in Lebanon in 1998
Date Journalist Incident
06/27/98 Hassan Sabra, Al-Shira' Attacked
02/23/98 Charles Ayyoub, Al-Diyar Legal Action
02/23/98 Yousef Howayyek, Al-Diyar Legal Action
02/23/98 Elie Saliba, Al-Diyar Legal Action
01/07/98 Broadcast Media Censored

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