|Date: Jan 23, 2019|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|MPs look at new media in legal overhaul|
|Benjamin Redd| The Daily Star|
BEIRUT: Parliament’s powerful Administration and Justice Committee examined political publications, including online media, Tuesday during a session devoted to a draft bill designed to overhaul the country’s media laws.
But how the old media rulebook could be applied to a new world of social media, where information crosses borders freely, was a tough hurdle, Progressive Socialist Party MP Bilal Abdallah said.
“We can’t do anything to block any media, so we had a long discussion about this,” the Chouf MP said.
Jezzine MP Ibrahim Azar said finding the right balance would be key, by allowing free expression while “avoiding complete chaos.”
This could potentially involve lesser sentences for media-related crimes.
“We are trying to avoid having, say, someone who gives false or misleading information ... go to prison. [Instead] he would have to pay damages,” said Azar, who caucuses with the Amal Movement.
The issue echoed the contours of last week’s committee meeting. Then, MPs discussed TV financing regulations, part of the same media bill.
Punishment was also one of the major concerns with that section of the bill. If a TV station’s income is less than a third of its expenses, authorities had “the right to close the station” in one draft of the bill, according to MP Paula Yacoubian.
“I insisted on removing the one-month to three-month shutdown [clause],” said the Sabaa Party lawmaker, herself a former broadcaster.
“If you do something that is not right, you pay, but you do not get shut down.”
But Yacoubian said her concerns with the bill extended far beyond that issue.
“Honestly, this law is bad, extremely bad,” she said. “I think the whole thing should be reviewed.”
“This industry is evolving very fast and some MPs are not aware of the technicalities and challenges,” she said. “If you put too much pressure on TV stations, they can go and broadcast from Cyprus [for instance]. ... Most of them are on Nilesat or Arabsat.”
Yacoubian also complained that the bill gave too much power to the National Media Council.
Azar, however, said this reflected another trade-off: “We have to consider that we are giving many of the powers [currently with] General Security to the National Media Council.” Empowering civilian bodies was important, he argued.
But Azar agreed that the bill required careful examination.
“That’s why we are taking our time,” he said.
According to Azar, the committee will need at least another month; Abdallah predicts longer.
If the review is completed, it will go to the floor of Parliament.
Tuesday’s hearing took place behind closed doors, the standard practice for parliamentary committees. The text of the bill has not yet been made public.