SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

Old, Repressive Military Measure Resurfaces in Beirut

Sunday , 12 July 2020

In Lebanon, authorities are once again targeting journalists by applying a measure that dates back to the end of the last century, when the country was still under Syrian tutelage. The Lebanese Army Orientation Directorate is requiring journalists to get prior authorisation if they wish to conduct and film interviews with citizens on the entire Lebanese territory. Several days ago, the authorities randomly applied this measure, which casts doubts as to their attitude toward freedom of the media amidst a raging economic crisis.

This newly reinstated measure caused surprise and outrage among journalists, especially after two army intelligence officers in civilian clothes prevented a France 24 crew as well as Bloomberg Asharq reporter Maha Hoteit from filming in Hamra on July 6, asking them to get a permit if they wanted to report in the neighbourhood.

“We have been applying this old measure to local and international media for years now, following a 1998 government decision. Reporters and journalists are fully aware of this procedure and occasionally ask for a permit. Permits are not only required for filming inside refugee camps, police stations and military institutions,” a military source told SKeyes. “The journalist gets a permit within 10 hours and the latter is valid for three months. We make sure that the process is easy for journalists and we thrive to deliver the required permits on time.”

However, this decision surprised several journalists who work for local and international media. It is possible to download the form required to get a permit from the Orientation Directorate’s website. It includes the necessary information and documents as well as the time needed to get it: a journalist who wishes to cover a particular event will have to wait at least one week to get the permit. It is very surprising to see that the authorities have decided to apply this measure now, when public and media freedoms are facing a sharp decline.

“This procedure is unacceptable and completely illogical. We film in all regions without prior authorisation, whether in Hamra, Burj Hammud, Dora or elsewhere”, Sahar Arnaout, Al-Hurra correspondent, said in an interview with SKeyes. She also said that the Orientation Directorate delivered a monthly permit for them to be able to film inside refugee camps or border areas as an international media.

Sky News correspondent Salman Andary told SKeyes that they never asked for an authorisation to interview citizens in Hamra or elsewhere. “Each one of us has a press card that is intended to facilitate our journalistic activities, unless we want to film next to a security point or a refugee camp. We were very surprised when the army intelligence interfered with our colleagues Abboud and Hoteit in Hamra where citizens find comfort in sharing their sorrows in front of the camera. Not only does this measure repress human rights but it is also a flagrant violation of press freedom. All those people expressing their thoughts and worries, it seems to bother them.”

reporter Adam Chamseddine is also extremely shocked: “Usually, Hamra and Achrafieh are the only two neighbourhoods where we, as journalists, can freely conduct interviews with citizens. We are slowly becoming a police state.”

channel reporter Ghinwa Yatim said she went to Hamra to cover the incident. “We headed to Hamra when we knew that the army intelligence had requested our colleagues Abboud and Hoteit to get permits. We stayed there for two hours. No one asked us anything. We only ask for a permit when we want to film in a place where it is needed for security reasons.”

The SKeyes Center tried to contact Defense Minister Zeina Acar but to no avail. We also reached out to Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad who asked for some extra time to discuss it with the Defense Minister. The next morning, the Information Ministry told us “the Council of Ministers adopted this measure in 1998. Each journalist is required to get a permit if they wish to film on Lebanese territories.” Minister Abdel Samad said “she would do her utmost to revoke this practice that undermines freedom of the press” and that she is “currently negotiating with the Army Command.”

The SKeyes Center stresses the need to put an end to this repressive measure and asks the authorities to apply the necessary measures in order to guarantee stability and security, as well as protect human rights and public freedoms. Forcing local and foreign media to get authorisation before filming:

  • Is prior censorship; it violates the laws and principles governing media work in Lebanon;
  • Is an arbitrary decision that resurfaced years later, amidst increasing violations against journalists and activists;
  • Echoes the practices of repressive regimes and the measures imposed under Syrian tutelage;
  • Muzzles citizens at a time when living conditions are deteriorating;
  • Tarnishes even more the reputation of Lebanon, which appears as a country unable to implement reforms and adopt the most basic stan

Share News