By Van Meguerditchian
Saturday, January 22, 2011
BEIRUT: There might be plenty of complaints about the portrayal of women in advertising, but legislating the problem away is no easy matter.
During a panel discussion on the topic, organized by the Lebanese Women’s Council Friday, the group’s president, Aman Kabbara Shaarani, complained that the media and advertising sectors had become too powerful to be regulated by state authorities.
Shaarani told the audience that the media was failing to support the goals of human development, and instead was interested only in seeing advertising portray women as a commodity, in order to maximize the profits of ad agencies.
“Commercial advertising has become a ‘sovereign entity’ in the media in which women are considered the fastest way to attract consumers,” she said.
Lebanon’s advertising sector has been criticized in general for a lack of regulation, while the “racier” billboards have been defaced with black paint, to block out images that are offensive to conservative members of the public.
Metn MP Ghassan Moukheiber, who was present at the panel, said it would be difficult to determine “how acceptable” advertising is.
“There should be a thorough study to point out the extent to which a law can be drafted to allow states to intervene in assessing the morality of advertising,” said Moukheiber, who last year authored draft legislation to revamp the country’s media law.
Moukheiber explained that advertising agencies were not covered by laws related to the media.
He also questioned whether it would be possible to pass a law that monitors advertising, given Lebanon’s commitments to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Article 19 of the UDHR says every person has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, as well as the right to pass on information and ideas through any medium, regardless of borders.
Mokheiber told The Daily Star he supported the idea of reaching an agreement among the country’s advertising agencies, because the influence of religious authorities “isn’t useful,” and Ottoman-era laws relating to public conduct and morals are no longer applicable.
He added that it was difficult to set down norms for advertising in a country with diverse communities.
“Partial nudity is considered a taboo by some communities in Lebanon, which impedes any national agreement on a certain norm that can regulate advertising,” the MP said.
Media expert Nahawand Issa said women in the media are either portrayed as an item of consumption or a housewife occupied with kitchen work.
The problem is that women are then “perceived only as a physical body, which only men can decide whether to cover or not,” said Nahawand, the author of a book on women in the media.
Nahawand said women in the region were suffering a double problem in advertising: in addition to racy adverts, “today we see more veiled women … than ever before.”