By Daily Star Editorial
The news this weekend that a major Beirut film festival felt the need to pull an Iranian documentary from its competition program – just as it was learned that the director has been denied permission to travel to Lebanon – has drawn Lebanon’s attention back to censorship.
Only one of these decisions was taken in Lebanon and the festival was at pains to stress that the film in question was not banned. Yet the cultural fallout of these dubious goings-on remains hard to gauge.
What can be reasonably stated is that the decision to remove this film from the festival program was formed in a political context in which those who preside over such events must be as concerned about who they might offend as they are who they may stimulate and entertain. Even if no explicit or formal censorship is at work here, an element of self-censorship is evident.
What cannot be reasonably tolerated is the involvement of various, nonofficial individuals in the dialogue over censorship.The weekend also saw a senior Muslim leader state that Lebanon was in need of greater censorship on audiovisual material. His argument – that a perceived laxity on enforcing moral guidelines in relation to the printing of books, the showing of films and the broadcasting of programs is decaying Lebanon’s cultural integrity – was itself a follow-up of a similar pro-censorship call made some weeks ago by a prominent Christian clergyman.
Calls for greater interference in media and entertainment are problematic for two reasons. First, centralized censorship is profoundly ineffective. This is the 21st century, where anyone with a fast enough Internet connection has a world of illicit material on screen at the click of a mouse. This is a country in which LL10,000 paid to the local cable man will ensure more than 100 channels beamed into a living room, all unmonitored by authorities.
Second, censorship is inherently self-defeating. There have been, in Lebanon’s recent past, television shows pulled from scheduling due to heavy and occasionally threatening pressure exerted by one group or another, for reasons that remain unclear. Banning a book or a film or a television program only piques popular interest. It even arguably generates elevated audiences, as people who would otherwise have never heard of a given text or tape will be alerted to its existence once censored.
This newspaper repeats its call that religious leaders concern themselves with religious affairs and address the woes of their respective flocks – the least of which derive from censorship malfeasance.
Granted, a debate needs to be had over Lebanon’s censorship laws and amendments need suggesting to official guidelines drawn up over half a century of technological progress ago. But the debate is not enriched by religious figures haphazardly wading in. Unconcerned individuals calling for greater censorship in Lebanon are advised to begin with themselves.