Archaic Lebanese Media Laws Need Major Overhaul
Lebanon’s Marahat Foundation and Lebanese Member of Parliament Ghassan Moukheiber should be credited for trying to update the country’s incredibly archaic media laws, but there’s still much work to be done, and it’s an uphill climb in their efforts to ensure that press freedom is guaranteed.
On the books, the print media law dates back to 1962 and is totally incompatible with 21st Century realities.
There’s an effort underway to modernize the legislation but MPs hammering out details in the Communications and Media Committe are still trying to reconcile a draft law submitted by Maharat/Moukeiber with a below-par version put forth by another MP, Robert Ghanem, whose sole interest is updating penalties and fines.
Ghanem seems oblivious to the essence of what constitutes journalism today and the importance of a free press.
A third draft law presented by the Press Federation — an organization grouping publishers of newspapers who seem out of touch with what’s needed today — was sidelined by the parliamentary committee in question that is, at this writing, still debating clause 26 of the revamped 75-clause legislation.
The old law stands at 109 clauses and Ghanem’s version would have pushed it up to 130.
On the broadcast side, the law dates back to 1994, when the last serious amendment was introduced, only to be slightly tweaked in 1996. Needless to say, that also must be revamped to reflect changes we’ve seen on the media landscape.
For both print and broadcast media, the matter of ownership is also a big bone of contention and needs re-visiting because both laws deal with it rather unfairly.
But it’s not just an issue of modernization to keep up with digital media, convergence, and the impact of social media.
It’s also a question of giving journalists, bloggers and activists the latitude to express themselves without fear of retribution while providing guidance on good journalistic practice.
Last, but not least, there is a great need for a viable access to information law, which Lebanon does not have.
The Maharat/Moukeiber team have been busy working on that as well. But they, and we, must have Job’s patience to see it materialize, given differences between Lebanon’s various stakeholders and the wider regional uncertainties that tend to be reflected in the country.