A Confused Legal Landscape
The Lebanese Constitution, a number of international treaties and several other legal texts and regulations contain provisions that affect directly or indirectly the legal status of media and their functioning. As such, Lebanon guarantees the freedom of expression and freedom of press. In this regard, article 13 of the Lebanese Constitution provides that “The freedom to express one's opinion orally or in writing, the freedom of the press, the freedom of assembly, and the freedom of association shall be guaranteed within the limits established by law.”
International laws - Lebanon has ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1972, both guaranteeing the freedom of expression and opinion without interference.
Lebanese laws - Both the Press and the Audiovisual Media Laws clearly state that the press and broadcasting are free but “restricted” by (other) existing laws.
> The Press Law of 14 September 1962
The Press Law of 1962 (as amended by Legislative Decree No. 104 of 1977; the latter Legislative Decree being in turn amended by Law No. 330 of 1994), deals with the organization of the press, ownership of media companies, the licensing process, and the profession of journalist. It also contains criminal provisions in relation with the prosecution of a certain number of offenses that could be committed by the press such as libel and defamation, threats to public order, hurting national feeling, disrespect to public morals, or incitement to confessional strife; and establishes a special jurisdiction to try those offences, the Publications Court.
Content of press publications does not require prior authorization, licensing or permits, unlike theater and cinema, except for matters explicitly stated by the law. The Press Law states that nothing may be published that endangers national security, national unity, state frontiers or that insults high ranking Lebanese officials. It also sets the minimum journalist age to 21, and that a journalist must have a baccalaureate degree and at least four years of apprenticeship in journalism.
Legislative Decree No. 74 of 1953 provides that no new license is to be given to a new political publication as long as Lebanon has more than 25 daily and 20 weekly political publications. According to recent statistics, the Lebanese press has about 110 licensed political publications, including around 10 currently operating dailies, almost 40 weeklies and four monthly magazines reporting a total circulation of 220,000.
However, the decree allows publishers who hold two licenses for a political periodical to obtain a new license, provided that they stop publishing the two titles already licensed. In other words, if anyone wants to start a new newspaper, one has to acquire or hold the licenses for two existing newspapers and then cease their publication indefinitely in order to publish the new title.
> Law No. 152 of 1999
Allows international non-Arabic language periodicals that are in circulation outside Lebanon to be printed in the country subject to certain licensing conditions (see MOM Legal Assessment for more information).
> The Law on Satellite Broadcasting No. 531 of 1996
The Law on Satellite Broadcasting states that Lebanese satellite broadcasters are “responsible for maintaining the good relations of their country with other countries.” It is aimed at “showing a stable picture of the country from a political and security perspective,” and encouraging Lebanese immigrants “to have a stable and secure investment” in their country of origin. As such, rather than guaranteeing freedom of expression this law imposes positive content requirements on the satellite broadcasters, effectively entrusting them with a nationalistic, propaganda mission.
> The Audiovisual Media Law No. 382 of 1994
The Audiovisual Media Law organizes the ownership and licensing of audiovisual media channels and creates two basic licensing categories for radio or television:
- Media seeking to broadcast political content; and
- Media seeking to broadcast non-political content.
This law ended the state’s theoretical monopoly over audiovisual broadcasting and made Lebanon the first country in the Middle East to establish a regulatory system that allowed private radio and television broadcasting to be both produced and distributed within its borders. It prohibits any person or entity from owning, directly or indirectly, more than 10% of the total shareholding of a single audiovisual media station. It also provides for criminal offenses that can be committed by media by reference to the provisions of the 1962 Press Law in this regard.