Concerns rise over Lebanon's proposed media law impact on freedom of expression

Lebanon News
2023-11-28 | 03:50
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Concerns rise over Lebanon's proposed media law impact on freedom of expression
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Concerns rise over Lebanon's proposed media law impact on freedom of expression

Lebanon's Parliament's Administration and Justice Committee are about to conclude discussions on a new media law that, if approved, "would severely curtail freedom of expression and press freedom in Lebanon and undermine crucial human rights safeguards," said the Coalition to Defend Freedom of Expression in Lebanon.

A statement published by Amnesty International reported that the latest law draft, reviewed by the Coalition members, contains provisions that will suppress freedom of expression and press freedoms.

"It upholds criminal penalties, and in some cases increases prison sentences and fines, for insults and defamation," reported the statement, adding that in recent years, defamation and insult laws have been "weaponized" by the country's authorities to silence human rights activists, journalists, and critics.

The draft law also includes imprisonment for up to three years for insulting "recognized religions."

"It is deeply concerning that the draft law is being privately discussed and hidden from public scrutiny, while the spotlight is fixed on the ongoing Israeli attacks in South Lebanon since October 7—that have led to the tragic killing of at least 14 civilians," the Coalition to Defend Freedom of Expression in Lebanon expressed.

If approved in its present form, "this law would be a dangerous setback for freedom of expression in Lebanon in an environment where defamation laws are already being used to harass and intimidate journalists and other individuals who criticize the authorities," it said.

Additionally, the proposed law maintains the criminalization of defamation against heads of state and introduces harsher penalties for defamation against ambassadors and diplomatic missions.

Defamation targeting the Lebanese or foreign president could result in imprisonment between six months and two years and/or fines. The public prosecutor can initiate charges without a formal complaint.

The draft legislation also includes penalties for insulting religions, inciting bigotry, and threatening the state's integrity, with repeat offenders facing double penalties.

However, these measures conflict with international standards protecting freedom of expression, calling for abolishing laws allowing imprisonment for peaceful criticism.

The draft also restricts journalists' rights, allowing only one media syndicate, limiting access to critical information, and imposing fees on media outlets, potentially stifling free speech.

The Coalition urges the Parliament to make discussions in the parliamentary committees public and to ensure that the new media law completes international standards, including by:

- Eliminating articles criminalizing insults, including those targeting heads of state, public institutions, the army, and government officials.

- Replacing criminal sanctions on defamation with civil provisions, ensuring damages are proportionate to actual harm.

- Establishing truth as a complete defense to defamation, especially in matters of public interest, requiring due diligence to ascertain the truth.

- Avoiding granting special protection to public figures, including the president, against defamation or insult, recognizing the public interest in criticism of public figures.

- Criminalizing statements only amounting to incitement to violence or advocacy of discrimination, hostility, or violence, with clear definitions as per international guidelines.

- Removing requirements for licensing journalists and advancing publication authorization, ensuring reasonable, objective, transparent, and nondiscriminatory criteria.

- Appointing members of an independent regulatory body for the media sector based on transparent criteria with civil society participation.
 

Lebanon News

Lebanon

Parliament

Administration And Justice Committee

Media

Law

Freedom

Expression

Press

Human Rights

Coalition To Defend Freedom of Expression In Lebanon

Amnesty International

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