The new and updated Media Landscapes have moved to a new location:

www.medialandscapes.org


The article below is only available for archival purposes.

Media Landscapes

Lebanon

Written by Lorenzo Trombetta

image

From the second half of the 19th century, decades before the creation of independent Lebanon in 1946, Beirut boasted pre-eminence in the surrounding Arab regions for the freedom of expression enjoyed by its several newspapers. These are indeed the oldest and most important in the area. Even today, the smallest country in the Middle East is an exception compared to its Arab neighbours in terms of pluralism of the press and broad range of readers.

Despite a history of turmoil, Lebanon’s well-educated and critical population has led to one of the most diverse and sophisticated press and media landscapes in the Arab Levant. With newspapers and media outlets in four different languages (Arabic, French, English and Armenian), Beirut has a vibrant media community with relatively high professional standards and free from State control. The Lebanese press does, however, reflect the limitations of the sectarian system that dominates the country, where a newspaper or a TV station is more often than not identified with one of the main religious and political groups. 

Emerging from the bloody chaos of the civil war (1975-90), the country enjoyed a relative period of stability in the following decade, ensured by the supremacy of Syrian political and military influence over its territory (also known as 'Pax Syriana’), which was blessed by the United States and the other main regional and international actors.

In 2004 the new French-American initiative against Syrian presence in Lebanon and its allies in the country (starting with UN resolution n. 1559) opened one of the longest political crises that had ever occurred not just between Beirut and Damascus, but also between the Syrian-Iranian and the Israeli-American axes.

Four years later, after the death of more than one thousand civilians in an Israeli-Hezbollah war (2006), internal armed clashes in Beirut and Mount Lebanon (2008) and several explosions and political assassinations (2004-2007), the Doha Agreements formally put an end to the confrontation and paved the way for a fragile truce inside Lebanon. Perhaps until the next bloody round.

Not only have the local media been deeply influenced by this dangerous polarization but they have also gradually become sharp tools of propaganda in the hands of opposing Lebanese political and sectarian groups. The Lebanese press corps has also suffered many casualties over recent years due to targeted attacks and armed conflicts. Today none of the newspapers, TVs and radios can be described as immune to the ongoing conflict, and very few attempt to maintain a neutral attitude.

With the 1996 implementation of the Audiovisual Media Law (n.382 of 1994), Lebanon became the first Arab state to authorize private radio and TV stations to operate within its borders. However, a huge number of small radios and TVs were subsequently declared "illegal" and thus closed, with the new licenses being given to corporate conglomerates linked to influential politicians.

According to the Internews network report of April 2009, many media institutions suffer from a lack of human resources, written job descriptions, organizational policies, and regular performance appraisals and rely heavily on part-time staff.  Moreover, 40 percent of Beirut-based media had no mission statement or organizational chart.

While about 45 percent of the organizations surveyed had over half of their staffs made up of women – notably in broadcast media – few of the women were admitted into the male-dominated areas of political journalism. Interestingly, 29 percent of the organizations did not employ women at all.

Politicians accounted for up to a third of many media boards of directors and often used these outlets as tools to promote their platforms, influence public opinion and seek public support. The report also found that most of the larger Lebanese media “proved to be very opaque and resistant towards revealing information about their internal operations and management.”

The Lebanese press includes about 60 licensed political publications, including around ten dailies, almost 40 weeklies and four monthly magazines reporting a total circulation of 220,000 (2008). However, there are no accurate figures on circulation and distribution of newspapers in Lebanon and each paper makes self-promoting claims.  According to the Ministry of Information, as-Safir (The Messanger) and an-Nahar (The Day) supposedly are the most read newspapers in Arabic language, with respectively 50,000 and 45,000 issues daily.  In any case, it is fair to say the largest circulation dailies are an-Nahar, as-Safir and al-Akhbar (The News, founded in 2006).  In the beginning, Al-Balad (The Country, 2003) also had large circulation which subsequently decreased.

As- Safir was founded in 1974 and belongs to a shia Muslim, Talal Salman.  It is now the leading reference point for the Lebanese parliamentary opposition, which supports a Hezbollah-led ‘Islamic resistance’ against Israel and, more broadly, against the USA. At least since 2005, as- Safir’s political orientation has in part shifted towards more radical positions.  For decades, and at least until 1989, it represented the secular left-wing Arab intelligentsia, opposed to Washington policies and loyal to pan-Arab ideals. Its sensationalist style often lacks professional ethics.

Established in 1933 by the Orthodox Christian Tueni family, an-Nahar has since 2004 been characterized by a liberal orientation, which, without denying its roots and Arab affiliations, looks to Europe and the West in general as a political and cultural reference point.  With the deteriorating domestic institutional crisis, exacerbated by regional opposition between a pro-US bloc and the Iranian–Syrian axis, an-Nahar became the voice of the popular campaign against Syrian interference in Lebanon and started to express criticism towards Hezbollah and its main regional supporter, Iran. However, after the formal end of the crisis in May 2008, an-Nahar apparently abandoned its political commitment and has since been gradually reshaped as a 'newspaper for every Lebanese'. As many observers and readers have pointed out, the paper now "is neither fish nor fowl". Due to "financial difficulties", an-Nahar dismissed 50 employees in September 2009, announcing that in the following months its staff would be reduced from 300 to 220 journalists and print workers.

Both an-Nahar and as-Safir, alongside with the most authoritative pan-Arab daily al-Hayat (founded in Beirut in 1946 but since 1990 owned by the Saudi prince Khalid b. Sultan) are considered the heirs of the local press's old tradition. The first Arab jarida (newspaper), the Garden of the News (Hadiqat al-Akhbar), was published in 1858 in Beirut and was followed by other illustrious gazettes. Since the 19th century, the urban elite has also played a crucial role in establishing some of the most prestigious newspapers in Egypt and in the new destinations of the Arab diaspora, such as Argentina, Brazil, France.

Nowadays, in addition to an-Nahar, as-Safir, the pro-Hezbollah al-Akhbar and the commercial al-Balad, smaller portions of readers are shared by the francophone L'Orient-Le Jour (resulting from the 1971 merger between L'Orient, founded in 1904, and Le Jour established in 1897), the English-language The Daily Star (1952) and the pro-Saudi al-Mustaqbal (The Future, established in 1995). This last newspaper is the organ of the Future Movement and is owned by the Lebanese-Saudi business tycoon Saad Hariri, son and political heir of the former premier Rafiq Hariri, who was killed in a blast in Beirut in 2005.

A daily newspaper costs from 50 cents to a euro. For those who cannot read Arabic, The Middle East Reporter (MER) issues a daily English-language summary of the daily Lebanese press reports. Along with a rich variety of dailies, Lebanon offers a vast repertoire of weeklies and periodicals. Those focusing mainly on internal and regional political affairs and on social gossip (al-Hawadeth, al-Jaras, al-Watan al-Arabi, ash-Shiraa, al-Masira/an-Najwa – all in Arabic except for the two francophone L’Hebdo Magazine and La Revue du Liban, alongside with the English-language Monday Morning) – are scarcely reliable as journalistic sources, while the ones dedicated to business and finance – most of them in English and French (Executive, Lebanon Opportunities, Le Commerce du Levant, al-Iktissad Wal-Aamal) –  include a number of interesting insight features on social, economic and cultural aspects of Lebanon, in each issue. For a complete list of Lebanese dailies and periodicals see Concept-Mafhoum website dedicated to the Arab press.

Currently there are around 40 radio stations in the country (20 AM, 22 FM, 4 short-waves) broadcasting to 85 percent of the Lebanese population (2.85 million receivers). Five of them account for the majority of listeners. They are all dedicated to news and, with the exception of the state-owned Idhaat Lubnan/Radio Liban (Radio of Lebanon, one of the first radios in the Arab world, founded in 1939), reflect their different political and religious affiliations.

Sawt Lubnan (Voice of Lebanon, 1975) is the voice of the pro-Western Christian-Maronite 'Lebanese Phalanges' party, while Idhaat an-Nur (Radio of Light) is linked to the Shiite pro-Iranian movement Hezbollah.  Sawt al-Ghadd (Voice of Tomorrow, 1997) is owned by the Free Patriotic Movement (Fpm) led by the Christian-Maronite general Michel Aoun and allied with Hezbollah, while Sawt Lubnan al-Hurr (Voice of Free Lebanon, 1985) is affiliated with the pro-Western Christian-Maronite 'Lebanese Forces' party; and Sawt ash-Shaab (Voice of the People, 1987) is of the once-powerful Lebanese Communist Party.

There are nine television broadcast stations in Lebanon, although the application of the audiovisual Law led to the closure of a number of TV channels. These reach more than 97 percent of the adult Lebanese audience and the country has two digital cable television companies, Cable Vision and Econet.

With the exception of the state-owned andscarcely viewed Télé-Liban (founded in 1959, it really came into its own in 1977 in a merger between La Compagnie Libanaise de Télévision and Télé-Orient), all the other eight Lebanese TV stations are directly linked to the different political and religious rival factions of the country (the pro-Western parliamentary majority vs. the pro-Iranian opposition).  The result is a general lack of professional standards in reporting local, regional and international events, while the news agenda is deeply influenced by the different affiliations.

Although there are no reliable sources regarding TV ratings, the most popular channel in Lebanon seems to be LBC (Lebanese Broadcasting Company). Founded in 1985 by Christian businessmen as the mouthpiece of Lebanese Forces party, LBC is now owned by Pierre Daher with Saudi Prince Walid b. Talal as one of its main share-holders.  Politically it is one of the stations belonging to the so-called 'pro-Western' sphere, and is also viewed in other Arab countries.

MTV (Murr Television) belongs to the same sphere of influence. Originally created in 1991 by the Christian businessman Gabriel Murr, it was closed under strong Syrian pressures in 2002 and finally re-launched at the beginning of 2009. In September 2009 MTV and LBC have announced the dismissal of dozens of their employees.

Future Tv (Talifiziyun al-Mustaqbal) and its sister, Future News (Akhbar al-Mustaqbal), are owned by the pro-Saudi Sunni Hariri family and were launched respectively in 1993 and 2007 as the mouthpiece of Saudi interests in Lebanon and the region. Future News was assaulted (alongside with al-Mustaqbal newspaper) by scores of Hezbollah-led militiamen in central Beirut and forced into closing on May 2008 during the short and bloody Lebanese internal conflict. 

The so called 'pro-Iranian' (or 'pro-Syrian') sphere speaks to the other half of Lebanese public opinion through the very popular al-Manar Tv (Talifiziyun al-Manar) affiliated with the Shiite movement Hezbollah. The 'Beacon' was launched in 1991 with the help of Iranian funds, and its harshly anti-Israel and anti-US rhetoric is now estimated to reach 15 million daily viewers worldwide.

In addition to al-Manar, there is NBN (National Broadcasting Network), founded in 1996 by the Shiite speaker of the Parliament and leader of the Amal ('Hope') movement Nabih Berri. In fact NBN is widely and sarcastically known in Lebanon as the acronym of 'Nabih Berri News'. In 2000, it launched its satellite channel in order to reach the Lebanese Shiite diaspora in the Arab World, Africa and Europe. 

In the midst of this predominantly Shiite media landscape, the parliamentary opposition can also count on the third main Christian channel, OTV (Orange TV), created in 2007 as the first Lebanese publicly-traded company by the Fpm leader general Aoun. Other minor TV stations include the sensational NewTv (al-Jadid), founded in 2001 and owned by the local business tycoon Tahsin Khayyat – several times called to justice following 'scoops' broadcast by its channel – and Télé-Lumière (TV of Light), a religious educationally-based station launched in 1991 and owned by the Catholic-Maronite Church. ***

Since 1929, date of  its beginning, Lebanese cinema suffered from a sort of ‘Egyptianization’: films were seen to have to follow the Egyptian model and even to have Egyptian dialogue to be successful.

In the 1960s Lebanon was relatively stable, both politically and economically but the producers at the time were mainly concerned in making quick profits, rather than giving priority to quality. The result is that in the post-Independence and pre-Civil War Lebanon (1946-1975), there were very few serious Lebanese productions. Moreover, the majority of films made in that period continued to be Egyptian, Syrian or Turkish productions.

When the Civil War began most of the Lebanese film makers started by making documentary films about it, but with the spread of violence, filming in different areas in the country became increasingly difficult. With the formal end of the conflict, the early 1990s saw the creation of films that dealt with the subject of the Civil War, most of them funded by European countries. Later, in the last decade, Lebanese cinema has gradually started to extend its subject matter to confront social taboos.

In Lebanon (total population estimated around 4 million) there are around 650,000 telephone main land lines (covering 95 percent of the territory) and 1.4 million mobile telephones in use. The telephone system experienced severe damage during the civil war, but has been completely revamped. Through the telecommunications ministry, the government currently controls the landline company Ogero (Organisme de Gestion et d'Exploitation de l'ex-société Radio-Orient, created in 1972), but the authorities hope to eventually privatise Liban-Telecom. This group – yet to be established – will combine Ogero, parts of the telecommunications ministry and a new mobile license.

It is widely recognised that the mobile service is one of the most expensive in the region and falls short of modern standards. Moreover, calls can be easily tapped and traced for security reasons, not unimportant in such a volatile country. The authorities actively pursue call tracing, and have recently inaugurated a telecommunications surveillance centre. Reform or privatisation seems much more complicated. In theory Lebanese governments have been committed to privatisation for years, but in practice little has been done.

In 1994 two companies, Cellis and LibanCell, started to operate the two networks under a Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) agreement. In 2001, however, the government terminated the agreements leading the companies to sues for compensation. The government then issued a call for tenders to manage the networks on its behalf, and the concession was eventually awarded to Zain of Kuwait and Orascom of Egypt, respectively in charge of the new Mtc Touch and Alfa brands.

These contribute 1.1 billion dollars to the treasury annually, but after removing value added tax and allowing for operating expenses and other costs, that amount is reduced to some 750 million dollars.  Before the financial crisis, ministers had been hoping to net 7 billion dollars from the sale of the two mobile network licenses.

With regard to Internet services, Lebanon now has almost a million (950,000) users or 24 percent of the population. Through the Ogero company, the telecommunications ministry provides three types of services: dialup, Wireless Internet and ADSL.Dialup services cost around 7 dollars a month but users must pay for the cost of phone communication; ADSL was offered for the first time in April 2007 and there are currently 18,000 subscribers. Available in the main cities, the network is still under development in some rural areas. ADSL services typically cost from 19 dollars a month (128 kpbs) to 70 dollars a month (1 Mbit/s), while Wireless Internet services, offered for the first time in 2006, cost around 45 dollars a month.

According to Broadband Lebanon Group, the country lacks infrastructure permitting access to a broadband connection.  The country does not have a special network to transport data, which is presently being transported over the existing landline telephone network.  Moreover, the international bandwidth is very low and limited, and the telecommunications ministry has exclusivity in establishing international gateways and transporting international traffic. There is no true competition in the Lebanese telecom market as Ogero and a few private companies (Data Service Providers, DSPs) share the market in a stagnant status quo environment.

Thanks to the relatively high penetration of Internet services in urban areas, in the last decade almost all the newspapers have started to exploit the Net. At first, the new sites appeared as mere electronic versions of their paper parents, whereas some of them have now been transformed into more useful sources of information with several updates per day.

In addition to the web sites of the main local newspapers, more information about Lebanese political, economic and cultural events can be found on numerous web sites such as Naharnet, owned by the an-Nahar editorial group; NowLebanon, close to the 'pro-Western' parliamentary majority; and Tayyar, affiliated with the Free Patriotic Movement of the Maronite leader Michel Aoun.

Thee websites, with their home pages continuously updated, are followed mostly for their “breaking news” services and their partisan political analysis. Even though it is not always a reliable source of information, LibanCall and other media outlets offer a SMS urgent-news service, valid only in Lebanon and available for 10 dollars a month. In addition, self-proclaimed independent sites such as Elnashra, LebanonWire, LebanonPress and AkhbarAlyawm may satisfy readers interested in broadening their knowledge of different Lebanese issues. Web television and video news in Internet newspapers are still scarcely used. The dominating source of web TV is Youtube and the various social network platforms such as Facebook.  

The main Lebanese news agency is the state-owned National News Agency (Wikalat al-anba’ al-wataniyya). Founded in 1961 and now located in the Ministry of Information building in central Hamra Street, the Nna has dozens of reporters in Beirut and other regions, from the northern borders with Syria to the southern Blue Line of demarcation with Israel, from the Mediterranean coast to the eastern fields of  the Beqaa Valley. Recently, its new web site has appeared with pages in French and English along with Arabic, but the frequency of online news updates is still below international standards.

Another local news service is the private and more modest Central News Agency (Wikalat al-anba’ al-markaziyya), better known as “al-Markaziya” and based on the Hazmiye hill near Beirut. Created in 1983 and directed by the Christian Pierre Abi Aql, it has the ambition to compete with the Nna in the local market, but does not seem to have the same penetration in the Lebanese territories.

On the other hand, political, economic, social and cultural features published by the Arabic services of Reuters, Agence France Press (AFP) and Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA) usually find considerable space in Lebanese media outlets, as do their “bulletins” (urgent news), which are often quoted by the local TVs, radios and news web sites.

In an expression of the lively activism of the early modern Levantine press that had come into being in Beirut in the second half of the 20th century, dozens of reporters and local newspaper owners gathered in 1911 at the Grand Hotel Bassoul on the city's sea-front to give birth to the "Journalists Commission" (al-Lajna as-sahafiyya), the first institution created to regulate relations among journalists, publishers and political authorities. After almost a century, Lebanese journalists maintain the fervor of their grandfathers but complain of the absence of official bodies to protect their rights and denounce violations.

The 1962 Press Law formally organized journalists into two syndicates: the Lebanese Press Syndicate (LPS, Niqabat as-sahafa al-lubnaniyya, owners) and the Lebanese Press Editors Syndicate (LPES, Niqabat muharririn as-sahafa al-lubnaniyya, editors and reporters). A Higher Press Council was also created, along with other committees, to consider other issues pertinent to journalists, including the task of devising a retirement plan.

As established in its charter, the Press Editors Syndicate formally performs the functions of both a trade union protecting the interests of its members and an accountability body monitoring the conduct of journalists as well as providing guarantees for their professionalism and ethics. However, many reporters interviewed in Beirut in 2009 stated on condition of anonymity that both the Press and the Press Editors syndicates have for decades been two ineffectual institutions created merely in order to give the impression that Lebanon respects international press organization standards. Around 75 percent of Lebanese journalists accredited by the Information Ministry do not appear as LPES members. The latter actually performs neither the function of a trade union nor that of an accountability institution.  Moreover, in Beirut, officials of neither the LPS nor the LPES, when contacted were able to clearly describe the nature and the function of the Higher Press Council.

According to local observers, there is no doubt that today the two bodies continue to be dominated by the political and sectarian carve-up: the Sunni-Muslim Muhammad Baalbaki has been LPS president since 1989, while the Press Editors Syndicate has for over 40 years been presided over by the Christian-Maronite Melhem Karam, a media tycoon who is also owner of one of the principal publishing houses in the Arab world, with more than 30 publications in Arabic, English and French distributed in Lebanon, the Middle East and Europe.

As Lebanese Media expert Magda Abu-Fadil has pointed out, the LPS and LPES “are run by constantly re-elected octogenarians clinging to power and derisively referred to by detractors as Jurassic Park”. Recently, when along with LBC and MTV, the an-Nahar newspaper announced the dismissal of a total of more than 150 employees, the LPES took almost a week to issue a weak statement to "express solidarity with the colleagues" without taking any firm and effective position against these measures. The "Samir Kassir Foundation for the defense of media and cultural freedoms in the Arab World" (SKeyes, see below) was the only organization in Lebanon to harshly criticize and repeatedly denounce LPES failure to effectively support the journalists.

Lebanese media are formally organized under the 1962 Press Law and the 1994 Audiovisual Media Law, but in many aspects rules are respected only on paper. The 1962 Law was officially enacted in order to “protect the press from random abusive interventions” and to shield the State and its citizens from biased campaigns in the press. The law defines a journalist as being at least 21 years of age, having a baccalaureate degree and having apprenticed for at least four years. Practicing journalists do not require certification, although those with a degree in journalism must register with the LPWS, while it is the Ministry of Information that issues annual press cards.

As is the case with other Arab states’ press laws, the Lebanese text states vaguely that “nothing may be published that endangers national security … national unity … or that insults high-ranking Lebanese officials … or a foreign head of State”. It is difficult not to perceive behind these loaded and ambiguous expressions a subtle warning to reporters. In the recent past, several episodes have focused attention on the concrete danger posed by these controversial articles in the Law.

The Audiovisual Media Law of 1994 separated TV and radio stations into two categories: those licensed for broadcasting news and political coverage and those focusing only on entertainment or general interest content. As mentioned before, the new rule on the one hand abolished the State broadcasting monopoly, while on the other hand, it forced dozens of TVs and radio stations to close, thus favouring the emergence of a few powerful local and regional tycoons at the expense of pluralism and freedom of expression.

Under the Law, no individual or family is allowed to own more than a ten- percent share in a television company, and in any given programme there must be equal opportunity of expression for different political viewpoints, ideally providing a fair and balanced perspective. The real situation, of course, is far from this ideal.

Censorship and Self-Censorship

In 1967, foreign publication censorship was abolished and three years later the government decided to withdraw censors from TV stations. But formally the Sureté Général (General Security) still maintains power to control and censor the press and media. Minister Tariq Mitri (confirmed in 2009) has repeatedly expressed his willingness to abolish any form of censorship and on this point he has presented a draft law in Parliament that is still awaiting discussion. However, it is not difficult to imagine that reporters in fact practise self-censorship so as not to be subjected to various kinds of pressure and in order to protect themselves and their relatives both physically and psychologically.

Nevertheless, in October 2009 Lebanon was ranked 32 places ahead of Israel and second in the Arab world in the Reporters Without Borders world press freedom index. Lebanon placed 61 out of 175 countries, just one place behind Kuwait (the rankings reflect press-freedom violations occurring between September 1, 2008 and August 31 2009).

After the promulgation of the 1994 Media Law, the National Council for Audio-Visual Media (al-Majlis al-watani li-l-I‘lam al-mar’y w-al-masmu‘) was created in order to monitor respect of the 1994 Law. But the council continues to be an ineffective institution and its reports of violations perpetrated by politicians, parties, intelligence services against the press go unheeded.

Moreover, it is clear that its members are chosen mainly along sectarian lines.

Education and Training

In the early 1990s journalism programmes were set up at the main academic institutions. The public Lebanese University and the four main private universities of the country (American University of Beirut - AUB, Université Saint-Joseph - USJ, Lebanese American University - LAU, Notre Dame University - NDU) started to offer degrees in journalism, including postgraduate studies, even though the nature of the syllabuses differed somewhat. The total study period is five to six years (three to four years for a BA and one to two years for an MA programme).

The public Lebanese University has the longest tradition in journalism education; a number of working editors and publishers are graduates from this institute, which now has an information and documentation centre and offers a French-language degree course which combines theory and practical study.

The Journalism Training Program (JTP) at AUB is a programme for working professionals and not for university students, providing training in investigative journalism, elections coverage and newsroom management, with courses in Arabic, English and French, while the Maronite NDU offers a three-year course in English.

Rather than a BA in Journalism, the LAU offers one in Communication Arts.  The degree offers three areas of emphasis, one of which is journalism,  often described as “the poor orphan” of the trio. The other two areas are drama and Radio/TV/Film combined. At the same time, LAU is home to the Institute for Media Training and Research (IMTR). Created in 2007 as the result of the merging of the Institute for Media Arts (BIMA) and the Institute for Professional Journalist (IPJ), the IMTR aims to help reporters, editors and managers improve their operational skills in the new media techniques. It also focuses on issues in media law, ethics and freedom of the press in the Lebanese and Arab contexts. Further education and training for practising journalists is rare. Media groups that have the resources provide occasional internships.

Support

In the last decade, some independent associations have been created in Lebanon to fill the vacuum left by the absence of effective trade associations and accountability institutions. One of the most active is the Maharat (Skills) Foundation, a group of relatively young journalists who have worked together and personally experienced the obstacles to free journalism in Lebanon. Their aims are among other things to develop media skills and limit the effect of self- and government-imposed censorship on media.

In 1993 another “group of young journalists”, trained in the media departments of the Beirut universities, formed the Club de la Presse (Nadi as-Sahafa), a non-for-profit organisation with the ambition to become a “free journalistic pulpit”.  In 2006 thanks to several private donations from Lebanese and Arab businessmen, the Club de la Presse opened its prestigious headquarters in one of the newly restored buildings in central Beirut, where it regularly organises workshops, press conferences, book presentations and training courses with the declared aim of “helping young journalists find employment and overcome the difficulties of the Lebanese media system”.

The Samir Kassir Foundation (named after the Lebanese journalist and historian killed in Beirut in 2005) in November 2007 created its ‘armed wing’ SKeyes not only to support the new generation of reporters but also to monitor violations against press freedom in Lebanon and the Arab world. Samir Kassir Eyes is based in Beirut and has regional correspondents – some of them undercover – in Jordan, Syria, the Palestinian Occupied Territories and Israel. Its aims are to defend freedom in academic and scientific research, to act within the framework of civil society forces for defending freedoms while respecting the law and to build a media and cultural lobby at Arab and international levels.

The SKeyes centre was established through a grant from the Foundation for the Future, an international organisation based in Amman (Jordan), whose work is dedicated to freedom of expression. SKeyes has mainly financial support from the Foundation for the Future, the European Union and the International Network for the Exchange of Information on Freedom of Expression (IFEX). The SKeyes centre periodically organizes workshops, exhibitions and conferences on specific issues, prepares protest petitions by journalists and intellectuals, participates in organising protest campaigns, offers its legal staff to help journalists and intellectuals subjected to prosecution, lawsuits and prison, and liaises with local and international committees that defend journalism, culture and human rights.

In Lebanon, comprehensive and complete compiling of media statistics and prime sources for detailed information do not exist, but a great deal of news, reports and surveys can be found on the Internet.

These are published by the aforementioned SKeyes, Club de la Presse, Maharat (Skills) Foundation and IPJ and include the very rich blog of Abu-Fadil, director of the Journalism Training Program at AUB.

Against the profound difficulties and constant threats clouding the Lebanese media landscape, still signs of hope remain on the horizon indicating that journalists will continue to report in relatively free conditions compared to surrounding countries and  will continue to be an example to their colleagues from the shores of the Atlantic to the sands of the Gulf.

Lebanese journalists seem to be the most lively and active in the Arab world; they are almost all very fluent at least in both English and French; they are usually very familiar with European and North-American media contexts, and enjoy a long tradition of access to foreign media. On the other hand, the near absence of State policies to protect the profession render journalists defenceless against the oligopoly of a few media tycoons. This dominant system will continue to be in force in the mid term because of the overwhelming sectarianism and to the highly volatile regional scenario. The so-called “security of the State” and “civil peace” will likely remain untouchable principles and top priority needs before real freedom of the press.

During the recent years of harsh internal political confrontation, most of Lebanon's media seem to have neglected their role and responsibility as promoters of freedom, instead becoming the first tool of conflict among the political, religious, military, and financial forces. Lebanese media, long considered the Arab world's trailblazers, have declined in terms of freedom and balanced coverage, with management being reluctant to reveal details about internal procedures and operations. The consequences of the economic crisis are difficult to foresee, but the recent dismissal of journalists at the main local media outlets - officially motivated by the “global economic crises” – are worrying signals for the near future of a large part of Lebanese reporters.

  • Boulos, Jean Claude, La Télé, Quel Enfer!, Dar An-Nahar, Beirut, 2007.
  • Boulos, Jean Claude, La Télé, Quelle Histoire!, Editions FMA, Beirut, 1995.
  • Khatib Lina, Lebanese Cinema - Imagining the Civil War and Beyond, I.B. Tauris, London, 2008.
  • Issa Nadine, Le Prêt- à- Penser confessionnel - Médias Outils ou Médias Utiles, Imprimerie al-Hurriyat, Beirut, 2009.

Lorenzo Trombetta
Ph.D., Senior Middle East correspondent in Beirut
ANSA – Italian News Agency
Sodeco Square – Sodeco sq. bldg. bl.B 6th fl.
Achrafiyeh – Beirut, Lebanon
Tel:: +9613335096
Email: lorenzotrombetta@gmail.com