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SKeyes Statements | Lebanon

Speech by the Ambassador of the European Union Christina Lassen
June 1, 2018

The Samir Kassir Award for Freedom of the Press 2018

Sursock Palace Gardens, 31 May 2018

Your Excellency Minister Riachi, representing the President of the Republic,  

Your Excellency Minister Jarrah, representing the Prime Minister,


Dear finalists, friends, dear Giselle,

The Samir Kassir Award for Freedom of the Press was created by the European Union to honour the name and life of Samir Kassir, as a symbol of the fight for freedom of expression. 

For 13 years, we have gathered on this occasion to remind ourselves that his battle for free speech and a free press is as necessary as ever.

We are honoured to dedicate this award to journalists who are courageously working across the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf, sometimes even putting their lives at risk. Many of you are here with us today, breaking the wall of fear, as Gisele said. We also want to pay tribute to all those individuals and civil society groups in this region who work every day, often under very harsh conditions, to voice issues of concerns in our societies.

This year, we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The impact of this crucial document over the years cannot be underestimated. And, as pointed out in Article 19 of the Declaration: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers".

Freedom of the press is closely connected to this right and is the foundation of any democracy. 

This is why the freedom of the press and the safety of journalists and other media actors is a priority for the European Union in our work. 

In Lebanon, in the region and globally. 

For years, we have supported various local and regional programmes to promote professional journalism and build the capacities of independent media. Because freedom of the press is not only a fundamental human right. We believe that for any society to flourish, we need professional, talented and brave journalists like you here tonight, to educate, raise awareness and blow the whistle, whenever needed. Whether you are expressing yourselves through photos, videos or words, and whether you choose to publish your work online or offline.

Technological innovations have created new opportunities. In a way, everyone can now be his or her own editor or media outlet. But it has also brought new challenges. Fake news can easily be spread. Moreover, it is important to remember that the right to freedom of opinion and expression must also be protected online; this also includes the protection of personal data. One of the major achievements of the European Union this year was the launch last week of a new Regulation, which strengthens the rules to protect the privacy and data of web users and companies, an important element in our world today. 

Because it is a constant battle to protect and promote free speech and a free press. And we need to wage it together. This year's Press Freedom Report, published by Reporters without Borders, revealed a growing hostility towards journalists, in some places even openly encouraged by political leaders who no longer see the media as a cornerstone of democracy, but rather as an adversary and a threat. 

As in previous years, the biggest decline in press freedom unfortunately took place in this region. The Middle East and North Africa was yet again identified as the world's most difficult and dangerous region for journalists. We continue to see journalists, activists and social media users being threatened and subjected to violence. Censorship, online surveillance and terrorism charges are still being used to limit freedom of speech. 

Historically, Lebanon has had a special place in the region attracting artists, filmmakers and journalists who could not speak out in their own countries. This is also why there is for us only one logical place to host this award – here in Beirut. But sadly, in the past few years we have observed cases of journalists being prosecuted for their work; journalists being harassed for trying to report about the stories of public interest; and other restrictions on freedom of speech, such as the cancellation of Beirut Pride two weeks ago. 

These are worrying signals. But there is much hope. In this region as elsewhere, regardless of the attempts by many countries to curtail freedom of expression, journalists are increasingly finding new paths to express themselves, on social media, news websites and blogs.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am proud to announce that we have received this year a total of 193 submissions from 12 countries in the region. With 89 submissions, Egypt had the largest number of participants, followed by Syria (28), Lebanon (16) and Iraq (14). Human rights, through different topics, were widely covered this year. And interestingly, many of you focused on women's rights and gender based violence. 

Dear finalists,

Your participation in this award proves that the region has dedicated, passionate and talented professionals who will raise their voices against human rights violations, corruption and environmental hazards, even in times when authorities are trying to restrict freedom of expression. And most importantly, it proves a commitment to your societies and to your fellow citizens. I would like to congratulate you all once again for having made it this far – being among the finalists already proves the excellence of your work.

I would like to thank the members of the jury, who have spent hours reviewing these submissions. And last but not least, the team and president of the Samir Kassir Foundation, who made the most of a tragic situation to promote and defend free thought, free speech and free press.

Thank you.