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SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

Photojournalists’ Social and Economic Rights in Lebanon

Thursday , 27 April 2023
Design: Marc Rechdane

Photojournalists have a crucial duty to capture and report on events, but this duty comes with significant responsibilities, consequences, risks, and dangers. International instruments, including conventions such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the International Labor Organization (ILO) Conventions, the International Convention on the Safety and Independence of Journalists and Other Media Professionals, the United Nations Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, and the third edition of the Guidebook on the Safety of Journalists (2020), recognize the importance of protecting the safety and independence of photojournalists.


Despite these international efforts, photojournalists in Lebanon face difficult working conditions, with frequent exposure to traumatic events that can threaten their mental and physical wellbeing. Attacks on photojournalists are so common in Lebanon that many consider them to be a normal part of their job. Photojournalists Rita Kabalan, Makram Al-Halabi, Joe Bejjany, and Hasan Shaaban, among many others, were attacked recently.


This study aims to investigate the legal and customary grounds that regulate the work of photojournalists in Lebanon, including both freelancers and employees, and both Lebanese and foreign nationals working in the country. The objective is to understand the level of provision of their social and economic rights.


The study has two main objectives: first, to identify violations of photojournalists' socio-economic rights, and second, to develop an action plan to ensure legal protection and guarantee of these rights.


The study addresses four key research questions:


  1. What are the social and economic rights of photojournalists in Lebanon?
  2. To what extent are these rights currently provided?
  3. What are the main challenges faced by photojournalists and their Syndicate?
  4. What recommendations can be made to enhance the legal framework for photojournalists in Lebanon?


To answer these research questions, a mixed data collection approach was used, combining both qualitative and quantitative data. A total of 19 interviews were conducted with photojournalists working in Lebanon, using the same questionnaire, and led by the Samir Kassir Foundation (SKF) team.


One of the most significant findings from these interviews is that some photojournalists who work as employees are not allowed to work as freelancers due to exclusive agreements with their employers. Additionally, some full-time employees do not have the time to take on freelance work.


Furthermore, some respondents reported that photographers are not receiving the same salary adjustments as other journalists in media institutions, which has led to a disparity in pay.


Out of the 19 respondents, only seven reported receiving payment in United States dollars, while the majority (63%) received payment in Lebanese pounds, or a combination of both currencies at a certain rate.


The study also found that 60% of respondents use their personal equipment while working. Given that protective gear such as helmets and anti-bullet vests are expensive in Lebanon, most photojournalists do not use such equipment for their safety during their coverage. Only two respondents reported receiving a safety kit from their institution.


Furthermore, 42% of respondents do not have private insurance, which is concerning given the risks and dangers that photojournalists face in their work.


During the interviews, one respondent emphasized the need to protect the dignity of photojournalists who have dedicated years to their work. They suggested providing social security and retirement benefits for photojournalists who have given their wholehearted effort to their institutions. The respondent also pointed out that photojournalists often work in multiple roles, such as technicians of light and sound, drivers, and equipment carriers, and may be unable to continue working due to physical injuries.


According to the study, 68% of the respondents reported experiencing discrimination in their work. Of the Lebanese respondents, 73% reported experiencing discrimination, with seven citing sectarian and regional discrimination and one reporting discrimination by a state authority. Among foreign respondents, 50% reported experiencing discrimination, with one citing a state authority as the perpetrator.


Additionally, 40% of respondents reported not having a written contract with their employer or client. Of the nine who reported having a written contract, eight mentioned not having a copy of it. One respondent who did not have a written contract explained that they were afraid of being dismissed and left jobless, feeling constantly threatened and unable to demand more.


The study highlighted the crucial role that photojournalists play in the media industry, with the majority of respondents acknowledging their importance. However, one respondent noted during an interview that despite the reliance on photo and video visuals, photographers are often the weakest link and are blamed for any errors or mistakes. Two other respondents echoed this sentiment.


One major issue that the Photojournalists’ Syndicate faces is that its internal regulation is outdated (from 1994) and there are no professional regulations for photojournalists.


In response to the question of whether the Syndicate plays a major role in protecting photojournalists’ rights in Lebanon, 58% of the respondents answered “No”. Many of those who said “No” explained that the issue is not with the Syndicate itself, but with the government in general, its corrupt system, and the fact that the authorities do not allow the Syndicate to do its work.

In cooperation with SEEDS for Legal Initiatives.

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