BEIRUT: Arab artists, journalists and cultural figures called for taking a stronger stand against censorship, on the final day of a Beirut conference on cultural freedom in the Levant.
The conference, “Cultural Freedom in the Levant, Censorship and the Arab Spring Prospects,” which was organized by SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom, concluded its conference Saturday with discussions of the possibilities and challenges facing Arab artists and intellectuals in the wake of recent developments in the Middle East.
Ayman Mhanna, SKeyes executive director, said it was no longer sufficient to monitor and condemn censorship, arguing that it is necessary to launch a strategy focused on using the judiciary and building community awareness to confront all attempts to violate cultural freedoms.
European Union Ambassador Angelina Eichhorst said that more people now have the knowledge and courage to demand their right to live with freedom and dignity, emphasizing that “the development of communication means there will no longer be isolation, fear and persecution.”
Eichhorst also stressed the EU’s commitment to freedom of press while condemning the arrest of journalists, restrictions on their work and unjustified restrictions on the Internet and other new media.
Both Robert McDowell, director of Demarco European Art Foundation, and former Culture Minister of Jordan Jeryes Samawi called on journalists, artists, and intellectuals to stand against censorship.
According to Samawi, there are reforms taking place in Jordan to confront censorship but some of the measures are superficial. He stressed “the need for a pressure group of intellectuals, artist and directors to contribute to ending censorship [in the country].”
Samawi also argued that censorship resulting from pressure by sectarian and ethnic groups is more dangerous than that imposed by a state as it can drive the judiciary to take measures to restrict cultural freedoms for fear of violence or instability.
During the first session Saturday, French writer and director Jean Daniel Manian said that many plays are attacked in France by extremists who consider them harmful to Christianity.
Zeinab Farhat, the director of a theater in Tunisia, also discussed the problems posed by censorship exercised by societal forces and said that after the uprising in Tunisia took place, the problem has become social rather than state censorship.