By George Eid

This article is based on remarks in a panel organized by Security in Context on April 4th, 2023 titled “Shooting The Messenger: Journalism and Warfare in the MENA Region.


Free speech and free journalism is under threat in Lebanon, with journalists facing life-threatening dangers as they report on key events and maintain their status as watchdogs over people in power. This discusses the struggles faced by journalists, with personal anecdotes from Eid, as well as the mostly unenforced steps the Lebanese government has been taking to provide greater protections for journalists.

Since its independence, Lebanon has been a pioneer in freedom of speech and free journalism in the MENA region. However, after the civil war – and more precisely over the past 7 years – the country has faced many challenges, including an economic crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the August 2020 explosion in Beirut. Amidst these challenges, the safety of journalists in Lebanon and their freedom of speech have come into question.

Journalists play a crucial role in society by reporting on events, informing citizens, and holding those in power accountable. They are considered the fourth pillar of the state. However, in Lebanon today, journalists face numerous challenges, including harassment, intimidation, and physical attacks. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), there have been several incidents where journalists have been detained or physically assaulted while covering protests.

In some cases, journalists have been killed simply for doing their jobs, such as the assassinations of prominent journalists Samir Kassir and Gebran Tueni in 2005. There have been cases of journalists facing legal action for their reporting. In 2019, a journalist named Fidaa Itani was charged with defamation and slander after reporting on a case of police violence. This action against journalists not only stifles freedom of expression, but also puts their safety at risk.

Another common practice is also summoning journalists to courts and subjecting them to long interrogations about articles they published that provide evidence of corruption by public officials. Since 2017, criticising the president and other public officials has been one of the main reasons for summoning journalists to courts, barring them from leaving the country or arresting them upon their arrival. One example of this is Mr. Ahmad Amhaz, an activist arrested and detained on March 21, 2017 over a Facebook post criticising public officials.

Armed militias across the spectrum are a major threat to freedom of speech in Lebanon. For example, in 2011, as I was reporting for MTV Lebanon on an illegal construction, some opposing militia members started shooting around the television crew, forcing the crew to be escorted out by security forces. On another occasion in 2015, MTV reporter Joelle Kozaily was detained by armed individuals affiliated with Hezbollah with her cameraman while reporting around the Beirut airport, an area that is heavily monitored by militias. After 3 hours of interrogations, the team was released under the condition they did not return to the area.

While covering the apocalyptic Beirut blast in August 2020, minutes after the explosion, security officers were concerned with the information I had mentioned on air. They interrogated me after my reporting, trying to find the person who had leaked information to me.

Lokman Slim, a prominent Lebanese publisher, activist, and outspoken critic of Hezbollah, was found dead in his car in southern Lebanon in February 2021. Slim had been abducted and killed. Slim‘s murder was not seriously investigated. Lack of rule of law and due process adds to the atmosphere of impunity, which has a chilling effect leading to self-censorship. His death sparked widespread outrage and condemnation. Many activists and journalists in Lebanon believe that Slim’s death was a targeted attack on the press. The incident highlighted the risks faced by those who speak out against powerful groups in the country.

Women journalists in Lebanon face additional hostility, this time societal rather than just from official sources. Many face gender-based harassment and discrimination both online and offline. The culture of patriarchy and misogyny makes it challenging for women to report on certain topics, and they are often subjected to cyberbullying, sexual harassment, and threats.

For example, in September 2020, journalist Diana Moukalled was attacked by a group of armed men while covering a protest in central Beirut. Moukalled, who is known for her critical reporting on government corruption and human rights abuses, was physically assaulted and her equipment was confiscated. The attack was widely seen as an attempt to intimidate her and other journalists from reporting on sensitive issues.

Another major security issue for journalists in Lebanon is the use of online censorship and surveillance. Journalists who report on sensitive issues may find themselves subject to cyber-attacks, online harassment, or even arrest for their online activities. Governments and other powerful actors may also use sophisticated tools to monitor and censor online content, making it more difficult for journalists to report on sensitive topics.

In addition to these specific security risks, journalists in Lebanon also face broader challenges related to the political and economic environment. Many media outlets in Lebanon are owned by political or business interests, which can lead to editorial bias and a lack of independence. Journalists who work for these outlets face pressure to report in a certain way or to avoid certain topics altogether. As a result, the media landscape in Lebanon has come to reflect the polarisation of society itself, with different outlets catering to different political or sectarian audiences.  

The Lebanese government has taken some steps to address these issues, including drafting legislation to protect whistle-blowers and support freedom of expression. However, implementation has been slow, and these laws are not always enforced. Further, the current political climate and instability make it difficult for journalists to report on sensitive topics without fear of reprisal.

In conclusion, the safety of journalists in Lebanon and their freedom of speech are crucial issues that need to be addressed. Journalists should have the right to report freely and serve as watchdogs for the public without fear of harassment or intimidation. Lebanon's government and civil society must work together to create an environment where journalists can report freely by supporting the legal protection of journalists in the country. Only then can we ensure that the voices of all Lebanese people are heard, and freedom of expression and democracy are protected.

Article or Event LinkFreedom of speech in Lebanon.. Hanging by a Thread! PDF
Jun 18, 2023
Public Policy


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