Censorship in Lebanon: Not Exemplary in the Middle East?

The Samir Kassir Foundation recently shared this study that they conducted regarding various forms of censorship in the region. It’s an  interesting read. You can get the PDF here.

What’s interesting to note about the study is that cases of censorship in Lebanon are not among the region’s best. But fear not, it’s not the state that’s actually doing all the censorship.

In Lebanon, two phenomena raised concerns among defenders of liberty. First, the physical assaults on journalists by non-state actors, whether members of political parties, demonstrators, or a new category of activists commonly called “the inhabitants” (Al-Ahali) of some delicate regions. All sides of the Lebanese political spectrum were responsible for such acts.

In fact, in the facts & figures part of the study, a graph showing attacks on journalists in each country of the study had the following results:

The low number in Syria is not to be interpreted positively, as the study conductors noted. The attacks, when they’ve taken place, were brutal, as others graphs of the study show: Syria has the highest rate of violence against intellectuals and journalists.

What’s interesting about the results, however, is that 51 out of 55 attacks on journalists in Lebanon weren’t carried out by State authorities, but by non-state entities. Examples given are: Hariri supporters attacking journalists on the “Sunni Day of Anger” when Hariri’s government was toppled, as well as Hezbollah forces attacking journalists investigating their transgressions in Lassa and other villages in South Lebanon.

Another interesting fact to note is that the sector most affected by censorship in Lebanon was cinema with more than 10 movies being banned from being screened in Lebanon. Officials justified the decisions as a necessary precaution to preserve Lebanon’s relation with Syria and Iran and our civil peace. I think they were referring to the abysmal Beirut Hotel in one of those points.

For the non-state bans in Lebanon, one is regarding the LMFAO concert ban which happened due to some groups protesting the band’s anti-Christian feel in their song’s video. MEA has banned the newspaper Al Akhbar from being distributed on its flights. And last but not least, the infamous incident to hide Steven Spielberg’s name off the “Tintin” movie poster.

All in all, while Syria takes the cake when it comes to fighting liberties, the situation in Lebanon is not exactly peachy according to this study. Honestly, I didn’t think we had this bad compared to neighboring countries, which leads me to my conclusion.

What I think is a grave flaw in the conduction of this study is that such events in neighboring countries do not make headline news as they do over here, making our numbers seem inflated compared to them. Most of the transgressions that happen in them might be hidden or kept under the radar, making the situation seem much better than it is.

Either way, I’d take the results of this study with a grain of salt. While it is always an interesting read, I don’t think it’s correct nor is it a representative comparison between the countries of the region. Perhaps a look at the numbers of countries known for championing freedom is a clearer comparison. At least you’d know that being skeptical regarding their numbers is unfounded.

2 thoughts on “Censorship in Lebanon: Not Exemplary in the Middle East?

  1. On behalf of the Samir Kassir Foundation team, I’d like to thank you for this very interesting analysis of our reports. We agree with you that the comparison between countries do not necessarily lead to very accurate conclusions; this is exactly why we added the following mention after the graph on censorship:
    “This graph, however, cannot be used to compare the state of censorship in the region, as the movies, book and TV series banned in one country were allowed elsewhere. A good comparison tool would look at how censorship authorities dealt with the same art work across the region”.
    In the Arabic version, we wrote: “إلا أنه يجب أن ينظر إلى أرقام الرقابة بتمعن. فلا يمكن القيام بتقييم فعلي إلا بمقارنة تعامل أجهزة الرقابة في كل دولة مع العمل الفني نفسه، وهذا لم يكن متاحاً. فالأفلام التي منعت في لبنان لم تحاول شركات السينما أن تعرضها في سائر الدول، والكتب التي منعت في غزة متوافرة في أسواق مناطق أخرى، والمسلسلات الممنوعة في سوريا عرضت خارجها.”
    Please do contact us in case you have any inquiry about our work, monitoring press and cultural freedom violations in the region.

    Ayman Mhanna,
    Executive director, Samir Kassir Foundation

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    • I don’t mean that. I read that clause and I think it’s correct. My point is that the numbers tend to show one country (Jordan) with very minimal rates of censorship, regardless of what works were banned. In which case, I don’t think Jordan is an example of liberty because either people don’t try to talk against the king or if they do, you don’t hear from them again, which in turn leads to no one knowing they disappeared.
      The fact that we, in Lebanon, know every single censorship-related event and that we’re able to fight against it is testament enough to how advanced we are in liberties compared to the region, I think.
      The study, even with the aforementioned clause, do not show this, I believe.

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