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SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

Defending Media Freedom: Insights from Lebanese Journalists

Tuesday , 02 April 2024
Design: Marc Rechdane

In Lebanon’s socio-political sphere, journalists play a vital role in how society ought to function. As the country navigates a sensitive maze of intra-elite, sect-based polarization, economic crises, political transformations, and regional turmoil, the press acts as both a watchdog and a mirror, reflecting the ongoing struggles of a society in constant flux. This study aims to shed light on how journalists, within this dynamic context, perceive and interpret challenges and opportunities related to legal verdicts, digital safety, freedom of expression, media law reform, and media ownership.

The study uses data from a questionnaire prepared and distributed by ELKA, a polling and analysis firm that has recently been providing services to the Samir Kassir Foundation (SKF). By surveying 500+ journalists across various media outlets and platforms, the study aims to uncover the nuanced challenges of their professional experiences, specifically focusing on their awareness of threats and opportunities in the Lebanese media landscape.

This report starts with the premise that journalists have an indispensable role in promoting transparency, accountability, and informed public discourse within Lebanon’s institutional framework. This is supported by SKF’s previous activities and reports addressing concerns pertaining to digital security, physical safety, and journalistic freedoms. As Lebanon grapples with civil strife legacies, economic instability, and geopolitical pressures, and the region and globe continue to face enormous difficulties with regards to the contested and contentious relationship between democracy and individual liberties, the media, legal, and political literacy of journalists remain critical for a healthy public sphere.

Key Findings

After analyzing several key indicators as outlined above, it becomes evident that 59% of surveyed journalists have experienced one or more types of violations. Only 26% believe that basic freedoms are adequately protected, and a mere 22% consider Lebanese legislation to provide sufficient safeguards. The majority of interviewed journalists view the Press Editors’ Syndicate as ineffective, perceiving it as a co-opted and politicized entity incapable of addressing the repression and exploitation faced by media workers. While some recognize the potential role of the Alternative Press Syndicate, should it gain experience and widen its constituency, doubts linger about its effectiveness in navigating an increasingly turbulent and perilous environment, especially given its limited capacity.

Moreover, journalists express widespread skepticism towards the independence, credibility, and impartiality of both traditional and online, digital-native media outlets. They suggest that political funding and donor considerations may compromise the ability of media personnel to conduct impactful and pertinent work and uphold essential ethical standards. Concerning power dynamics, journalists tend to favor the protection of liberties and the representation of marginalized groups within the media landscape. They emphasize the significance of scrutinizing and critiquing influential sectarian leaders who have evaded accountability in a country grappling with economic collapse, all while recognizing certain normative constraints related to addressing prominent figures (e.g., reluctance to condone and engage in ridicule).

In essence, within the media industry, the prevailing trend is for journalists to be cautious about criticizing influential leaders in the military and religious establishment. This study highlights a reluctance, and sometimes outright opposition, among journalists to challenge these influential figures, which ultimately reinforces existing power dynamics. While journalists have the potential to benefit from certain contradictions that could provide space for speaking out and critiquing, they often end up giving in to perspectives that suppress public and private freedoms. Therefore, one should approach with skepticism the degree to which most journalists adhere to principles that prioritize freedom of expression as a social commitment.

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