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August 19, 2007

Danger of Being a Journalist in Lebanon

Filed under: Uncategorized — lisoosh @ 12:38 pm

Being a journalist can involve calling up the families of the dead to ask about their lives. It can involve writing opinions and being interviewed on television about them; or chatting to the rich, famous or powerful and basking in the reflected glow of celebrity. It can involve watching someone die of hunger and then getting on a plane out of the region well fed and happy. It can involve being blown to bits.

In Lebanon in 2005, three Journalist were blown up in car bombings. Samir Kassir and Gebran Tueni were killed. May Chidiac’s political criticisms literally lost her an arm and a leg. They were all critical of Syria, Syrian involvement in Lebanon and Syrias potential involvement in the car bombing deaths of Lebanese polititians.

Being a journalist in Lebanon is dangerous business.

Of course, not long ago there was very little free press in Lebanon at all. As noted in this article:

Opinion pieces and unrestricted programming have existed in Lebanon since the dismantling of Lebanon’s General Security. The special branch of the Ministry of the Interior was off-limits according to media censors until 2005. At the discretion of the security forces, criticism of Syria and nonconformist publications were blocked, and journalists systematically followed.

The Lebanese film maker and Berlin resident, Myrna Maakaron, makes the comparison that “the General Security controlled things in Lebanon the way the Stasi did in the DDR. At the top of the pyramid were Syrian agents.” In addition to direct censorship, the security forces undertook silencing and intimidation of journalists.

More on the topic in this 2000 article:

Lebanese journalists were not immune to violent attack. On October 11 (1999), a group of Lebanese photojournalists, working with the local and foreign media, were assaulted by Lebanese soldiers joined by security guards from a fertilizer factory in the northern town of Selaata. Some of the journalists’ cameras were damaged or confiscated during the melee. They had been accompanying a group of activists from the environmental organization Greenpeace who were attempting to stage a peaceful protest at the factory, which they accused of polluting Lebanese waters.

Syria’s controversial military presence, which critics dubbed an “occupation,” continued to exert a negative impact on press freedom. The memories of 1976, when Syrian troops occupied and temporarily closed the offices of several newspapers upon their arrival in Beirut, are still fresh in the minds of most Lebanese journalists. Several journalists who criticized Assad’s regime in the early eighties were mysteriously assassinated in Beirut. As a result, self-censorship in reporting about Syrian affairs remained widespread. Local media have cited the reports of international human-rights groups on Syria, but Lebanese journalists steer clear of direct criticism that could trigger Syrian retaliation.

Even after Syria withdrew from Lebanon, there is evidence that old habits die hard.
A long freemedia piece details some of the events in 2006, even before the Israel/Hezbollah war in Lebanon.

A number of worrying developments took place within Lebanon’s media environment earlier in the year and sparked concern that journalists were facing increased harassment and intimidation.

…Demonstrators set fire to buildings housing the Danish and Norwegian embassies on 5 February. News photographers and cameramen at the scene were assaulted by protestors and some equipment was destroyed.

…Criminal charges filed against two journalists of the daily Al Mustaqbal on 3 March prompted serious concern that authorities were stepping up judicial harassment of the press. Editor-in-chief, Tawfiq Khattab, and correspondent, Fares Khashan, were charged with insulting and defaming the president after Al Mustaqbal published an interview with former army intelligence chief, Johnny Abdo, in which Abdo criticized President Emile Lahoud. If convicted, Khattab and Khashan could face up to two years in prison. Known for it’s critical stance on political affairs, Al Mustaqbal and its journalists face a total of 12 charges relating to defaming the president and other members of parliament.

…In mid-December, IPI carried out a fact-finding mission to Lebanon to investigate how political instability was affecting the media and observed that as political tensions increased, so did the number of attacks on journalists. A number of reporters covering the demonstrations, which saw tens of thousands of Hezbollah supporters converging on downtown Beirut, were assaulted and threatened while covering events.
Media representatives affiliated with outlets perceived as being anti-Syrian or pro-government, also reported that their correspondents faced increased harassment as tensions heightened, particularly when working in towns in the south of the country, which are strongholds for Hezbollah support. Journalists who work with media outlets that have been critical of Hezbollah have faced intimidation from supporters angry with the outlet’s content.

…Journalists also reported increased concern for their personal safety, with a number of media representatives stating that heightened political divisions made the ominous threat of assassination ever more worrying.

And we have not even gone into the topic of kidnappings of foreign journalists over the years….

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