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Law and Practice

Respecting the law in Lebanon seems to be the exception. From the driving code to the Constitution, the culture of law enforcement has been historically weak and the laws pertaining to the media sector are no exception.

In the course of the research the MOM team found that no less than 43 media owners are politicians who sit or have served in government and in parliament. This makes accountability a myth, as they become judge and party at the same time. Some media outlets can even operate outside the scope of the law altogether, which is the case of religious media – illustrating the privileges that religious institutions have in Lebanon.

Circumventing Ownership Restrictions in the Broadcast Sector

A series of restrictions imposed by Audiovisual Media Law No. 382 of 1994 are circumvented, ignored or clearly violated by the owners of Lebanese audiovisual media outlets.

Article 13 prevents one natural or moral person from holding shares in more than one audiovisual media outlet. No individual owner appears in this situation directly. However, for example, former Deputy Prime Minister Issam Fares is a shareholder in LBCI and, at the same time, the Director of a Foundation that bears his name is a shareholder in another television station, NBN.

This article also prevents one natural (individual) or moral person (company or association) from owning more than 10 percent of a media outlet. Spouses, parents and children under 18 years old are considered the same person. However, this restriction does not apply to children over 18, nor does it apply to siblings. This opened the door for several family-owned companies that formally respect the law but in fact place entire companies under the effective control of one person. This is the case with Future TV, MTV, and Al-Jadeed. In some other cases, media outlets are wholly owned by companies that, in turn, are owned by only one person and their direct relatives (Radio Orient and Sawt El-Mada for instance).

Additionally, there is no clarity as for the establishment of subsidiary media outlets. For example, are LBCI, LDC, LBCI 2 considered three separate outlets owned by the same company, the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International SAL? When Future TV SAL was also operating the separate Zein TV and Future News channels, was it respecting the restrictions imposed by the law?

Sectarian Affiliations v. Pluralism

The requirement that shareholders belong to different sects is not explicitly mentioned in the law; nor is it included in the terms of reference for licensing put together by the National Media Council (NMC). However, in practice, the diversity requirement was a major element taken into account by the NMC to recommend granting a broadcast license or not. As such, the co-owners of each media outlet must belong to different sects. This condition was inspired by Article 7.3 of the Audiovisual Media Law, which calls media outlets to respect “the diversity of beliefs and opinions.”

As such, the NMC recommended banning Al-Manar from obtaining a license, based on the fact that most shareholders belonged to the Shia sect; yet, the Council of Ministers granted it a license. However, for other media outlets, the NMC did not take this condition into account. For example, while the majority of shareholders in LBCI, MTV and NBN belong to the same sect, respectively Maronite, Greek Orthodox, and Shia, this did not prevent both the NMC and the Council of Ministers from granting them licenses. Today, in the majority of cases, the shareholders of each audiovisual media outlet belong to the same sect: respectively Greek Orthodox in MTV and Sawt El-Mada; Maronite in OTV, RLL, and VDL 100.3; Shia in NBN, Al-Manar, and Al-Nour; and Sunni in Future TV and Radio Orient.

Inactive yet Still Valid Print Licenses

According to Article 29 of the Press Law of 1962, the Minister of Information must withdraw the license of a political periodical if no issues are published in the first six months after being granted the license, or if publication is suspended later on for more than three months in a row. Yet, in reality, more than 60 political publications still have licenses although they have stopped printing and publishing for years. A few have migrated online. No action has been taken to withdraw the licenses. Some newspapers have emerged based on licenses that remained dormant for decades, as is the case for Al-Akhbar and Al-Mustabqal, and the now suspended Sada Al-Balad and Al-Ittihad.

List of licensed political periodicals that have suspended publication yet maintain their license

  • French language: L'Action, L’Appel, Le Matin, Le Monde, Le Réveil, La Revue du Liban.
  • Arabic language: Al-Ittihad, Al-Ahad, Al-Ahrar, Al-Adab, Al-Adib, Al-Aman, Al-Intiqad, Al-Insha’, Al-Anwar, Ila Al-Amam, Al-Bilad, Al-Bilagh, Al-Bayan, Al-Bayraq, Beirut, Beirut Al-Massa’, Telegraph Beirut, Al-Thabat, Al-Thaqafa Al-Watania, Al-Jadeed, Al-Jareeda, Al-Joumhour Al-Jadeed, Al-Jihad, Al-Hadith, Al-Hadith Al-Mussawar, Al-Haraka, Al-Hayat Al-Dualia, Al-Horriya, Al-Hawadeth, Al-Hiwar, Al-Khawater, Al-Dustour, Al-Dunia, Al-Raed, Al-Rabita Al-Sharqiya, Al-Rassed, Al-Raya, Al-Raqeeb, Raqeeb Al-Ahwal, Zahlé Al-Fatat, Al-Zaman, Assafir, Al-Siyasa, Al-Shaab, Al-Shaala, Al-Shams, Sabah El-Kheir, Sada Al-Balad, Sada Al-Janoub, Sada Al-Shamal, Sada Lubnan, Al-Safaa’, Sawt Al-Ourouba, Sawt Al-Fayha’, Assayad, Al-Tayyar, Al-Assifa, Al-Arfan, Al-Assr, Al-Aamal, Al-Awassef, Al-Qalam Al-Sarih, Kull Shay’, Al-Kawkab, Lissan Al-Hal, Massis, Al-Majales Al-Mussawara, Al-Muharrer, Nida’ Al-Watan, Al-Nahda, Al-Hadaf, Al-Huda, Al-Wadi, Al-Waqt, and Al-Yawm.

The website of the Lebanese Press Order lists the licensed publications and provides phone numbers and email addresses for each one. However, it does not mention the owners of the licenses. According to a study conducted by Maharat Foundation in 2014, many of the phone numbers listed on the website are no longer functional or have changed owners. In addition, respondents have refused to give any detail about publications that they are supposed to represent.

In 2010, journalist Ali Halawi conducted research about the owners of these licenses. He found out that the trend of political ownership observed in the media sector applies to the ownership of licenses.

For instance the Hariri family owns the licenses for six periodicals: Al-Mustaqbal (still publishing), as well as the “dormant” Al-Hayat Al-Dualia, Al-Siyasa, and Sawt Al-Ourouba dailies and Al-Hadith and Le Matin weekly magazines.

Hezbollah also owns two newspaper licenses through two companies under its control: Al-Intiqad (license owned by Al-Duha for Press and Media SARL) and Al-Bilad (license owned by the Islamic Unity Publishing House).

Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri detains the license of Al-Zaman newspaper through a company named Amal for Press, Media, Publishing and Advertising he co-founded alongside Amal Movement MP Ayoub Hmayed. He also owns Al-Awassef weekly magazine.

Mohsen Ibrahim, founder of the Communist Action Organization in Lebanon owns the license for the suspended Beirut daily, and the Baath Party (affiliated to Bashar Al-Assad’s leadership in Damascus) owns the licenses for Al-Raya daily, while the branch of the party affiliated to the Iraqi Baath (formerly led by Saddam Hussein) owns the license for Al-Ahrar newspaper.

In addition to his direct participation in LBCI, former Deputy Prime Minister Issam Fares owns the licenses for Raqeeb Al-Ahwal newspaper and Al-Joumhour Al-Jadeed magazine, while former Prime Minister Najib Mikati (owner of and shareholder in LBCI) owns the license of Nida’ Al-Watan daily.

MP Faisal Karami (son of late Prime Minister Omar Karami) detains the license of Al-Raqeeb, and former MP Sleiman Frangieh, the leader of the Marada Movement, owns the license of Sada Al-Shamal.

The Lebanese Forces, in addition to their direct ownership of RLL and, publish Al-Massira magazine (based on their ownership of the license of Al-Najwa) as well as the suspended license for Telegraph Beirut newspaper. The Phalange Party owns the license for Al-Aamal and Le Réveil.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Michel Elias Murr, in addition to Al-Joumhouria, owns the licenses of L’Appel and Al-Haraka newspapers. Former Future Movement MP Bassem Sabaa, advisor to Prime Minister Saad Hariri, owns the license of Al-Huda daily.

MP Fouad Makhzoumi owns the license of Al-Hiwar newspaper, which he opened a few months before his first parliamentary bid in 2000, then closed it days after his defeat. He then migrated the publication online and re-activated it after his success in the 2018 election.

MP Abdelrahim Mrad owns the license of Al-Qalam Al-Sareeh, and the president of the Peace Party Roger Eddé now owns the license of Lissan Al-Hal. The heirs of former Parliament Speaker Kamel Al-Assaad still detain the license of Al-Rabita Al-Sharqiya.

This glimpse into political ownership of print publications’ licenses provides yet another evidence that law enforcement stops at the doorstep of powerful politicians who have been clearly violating the law by not publishing their periodicals. Yet they have been fighting tooth and nails to maintain this system of exclusive licenses also in the draft media law currently debated in Parliament.

The Gray Zone of Religious Media

According to a study by Maharat Foundation on religious media in Lebanon, “audiovisual religious media have remained outside the general regulatory framework” of Law No. 382 of 1994. The 1994 Audiovisual Media Law No. 382 did not address the issue of religious media, although Télé Lumière had been broadcasting since 1991, alongside a number of religious radio stations, a trend started by Charity Radio in 1984. Instead, Ministerial Decision No. 214 was issued on January 15, 1996 by then Information Minister Farid Makari. It granted official religious authorities in Lebanon, i.e. the Assembly of the Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops of Lebanon, the Sunni Dar Al-Fatwa, and the Supreme Shia Council, licenses to broadcast religious programs, on the condition that the religious radio stations open and end daily programming with the Lebanese National Anthem.

The decision also allowed religious authorities to broadcast on television by allocating a special channel in Télé Liban for religious programs, “to be divided equally between the Christian and Muslim denominations,” where the Christian program in this channel would be supervised by the Assembly of the Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops, headed by the Maronite Patriarch, and the Muslim program by Dar Al-Fatwa and the Supreme Shia Council. The channel would have been called Télé Liban – Religious Program. However, this decision was never implemented.

Therefore, most religious channels – including Télé Lumière – are not legally licensed, but most are considered under the guardianship of established religious institutions and are consequently authorized to operate without any of the conditions imposed on the other media outlets in Lebanon. In 2004, Noursat satellite channel (sister company of the Télé Lumière group) obtained a satellite broadcasting authorization from the Ministry of Telecommunications by virtue of Decision No. 447/1, dated October 11, 2004.

To further confirm the lack of consistency in public decisions regarding the media sector, some other religious outlets are licensed as first category (i.e. political) stations. It is the case of Nidaa Al-Maarifa radio, and the Jamaa Islamiya-affiliated Al-Fajr Radio. Others, like Al-Bashaer Radio and Sawt Al-Haq, with similar type of programming, are licensed as second category (i. e. …) stations. A third group is operating without any form of licensing, such as Sancta Maria, Irtiqa’, Al-Salam, and the Voice of Gospel radio stations.

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