SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

Digital Rights and Online Expression in Lebanon

Friday , 11 March 2016

This report, authored by Anna Lekas Miller, focuses on how Lebanon’s legal infrastructure impacts journalists, media-makers operating in the digital sphere, and citizens expressing themselves online, particularly through social media. 
The media, whether traditional or social, are an essential liaison between voters and politicians. It is how citizens understand the policies of prospective candidates and analyze the information to make their decision and cast their vote. Journalists’ ability to do their job – accessing politicians in power, challenging their statements, and communicating this information with the public without censorship or fear of reprisal – is an essential indicator of democracy, whether on- or offline.
Also, the definition of a journalist is changing, largely due to the Internet and the increasing popularity of ‘citizen journalists’ using social media and digital technology to publicize stories. This raises questions about the future of journalism in the digital age and how existing press and internet laws should adapt to the changing environment. Should a blogger have the same protections as a journalist? What about a social media user or citizen journalist posting or sharing content using a platform such as Facebook or Twitter? How should slander, libel and defamation laws affect online speech? How does current legislation impact freedom of expression online? What does digital surveillance mean for journalists, particularly those working with anonymous sources, or exposing classified or politically sensitive information? The following report addresses these questions by considering international precedents and examples where digital rights came in contact with media freedom and applying them to a Lebanese context.
The report begins by defining digital rights and providing a few examples of instances where media freedom was affected by digital rights. It goes on to describe the digital rights environment in Lebanon and how it affects its unique media ecosystem. Although there are several digital rights issues to discuss in Lebanon, this report focuses on criminalized online defamation and the practices of the Internal Security Forces’ Anti-Cybercrime and Intellectual Property Rights Unit, which has been accused of both direct and indirectly censoring online journalists, bloggers and Internet users.

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