|Date: Mar 5, 2019|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|Activists: Media laws to get needed reform|
|Finbar Anderson| The Daily Star|
BEIRUT: Activists voiced optimism Friday that 2019 could finally be the year that Lebanon’s antiquated media laws get a much-needed update, with a senior parliamentarian committing to making reforms.
MP George Adwan, who chairs Parliament’s Administration and Justice Committee, promised to make efforts to pass a new media law this year. The politician, speaking during a seminar on “Renewing adherence to international standards of the right to freedom of opinion and expression,” organized by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the committee would attempt to bring the law in line with international standards.
“This coming year is very important ... There is momentum,” said Roula Mikhail, president of the Maharat Foundation, which in 2010 submitted a draft proposal for a new media law alongside then-MP Ghassan Moukheiber.
Mikhail said that the primary aim of the draft law is to decriminalize cases involving freedom of expression. She added that a new document, due to be released next week and signed by some of those in attendance at the seminar, would encourage a “commitment of the Lebanese authorities to work toward freedom of expression ecosystems that meet with international standards.”
Lebanon’s laws surrounding freedom of expression have been under increased scrutiny recently, following a surge in the number of people being summoned for questioning by authorities over online activity. David Kaye, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, said last September that he had written to the Lebanese government urging legislative change, including a repeal of the criminal defamation law.
The principal regulations concerning Lebanon’s media are the 1962 Press Law and the 1994 Audiovisual Law, both of which are considered outdated and in need of reform.
Moukheiber raised concerns over some of the changes made to his original draft law after it was submitted to Parliament, saying, “Most of the modifications have limited the extent of the freedom we would have expected [from] the law had it been adopted as presented.”
The former MP called for greater advocacy efforts on the part of both citizens and the media to pressure politicians to push through the new media law. “Freedom of media is not for the media professionals. It is for the citizens at large to be well informed on a timely basis,” he said. “Without those lobbying efforts ... we’d not be able to protect and promote that freedom. And I’ve said that politicians don’t see the light, they only feel the heat.”
Jad Shahrour, communications officer at media watchdog the Samir Kassir Foundation, was doubtful that reforms discussed during the seminar would result in any meaningful change. He said he was skeptical that the political establishment would pass a law that might make it easier to submit them to scrutiny. “The political [class] in the country does not want any new voice that might shed light on their corruption,” he said.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 02, 2019, on page 3.