Lebanon’s bloggers were subjected to an unprecedented censorship crackdown in 2010, even as overall impediments to media freedoms decreased during the year, a leading media watchdog said Wednesday.
SKeyes Media Foundation, in its annual media freedom report for 2010, said that an increasing number of citizen journalists and activists had fallen foul of Internet restrictions.
“In a dangerous first in censorship and freedom of expression, Lebanese Army intelligence took unprecedented measures against a number of bloggers and Internet users,” the report said.
It listed several instances in which bloggers were arrested or intimidated, including the case of three who were detained for slandering President Michel Sleiman on a page they had created on Facebook. The three were later released on bail of LL100,000 each following a pardon from Sleiman.
The report also detailed the case of blogger Farah Qobeisi, who was detained in October after protesting having her access to Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp blocked by the army.
Several instances of censorship also occurred during 2010, according to the report, some related to literature and television reports concerning the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
In one such case, “Al-Akhbar newspaper published on Jul. 20 that a number of journalists received a clear threat to their lives and ‘advice’ from an anonymous security official asking them not to publish any information they acquired about the international investigation concerning Hariri’s assassination, especially information that referred to a possible implication of Hezbollah in the case,” the report said.
A book by French author Gerard De Villiers, containing implicit reference to Hezbollah in the murder of Hariri, was also banned.
The report noted that 2010 had been a far better year for journalists in Lebanon than 2009, which saw several attacks on members of the press covering parliamentary elections.
“This [improvement] was possible of course with the cooperation of Lebanese political and media authorities and despite the political tension that reigned at the time, journalists were not attacked [with one minor exception] and their professional tasks were not hindered,” the report said.
It praised measures taken by General Security to allow “intellectual Arab figures, for instance, to enter Lebanese territories after they had been forbidden to enter Lebanon due to their ideas and political backgrounds.
” In spite of progress on levels of media freedoms, Lebanon in 2010 remained a challenging place to be a journalist, the report said. “It should also be noted that 2010, similarly to 2009, witnessed cases of threatening messages being sent to journalists and saw the public holding journalists responsible for the political inclinations of the media institutions they worked for,” it said.
“Just as the year 2009 witnessed many political tensions that constituted repeated threats to the personal safety of journalists and hindered their reporting tasks, so 2010 has been filled with such cases.”
In general, however, media freedom in Lebanon – with its 2010 number one ranking in terms of Arab media freedom in spite of a fall of 17 places globally – was increasing, according to the report.
“A quick comparison between the state of media freedom in 2009 and its state in 2010 leads us to note a decline in the mass laying off of journalists. Nonetheless, the phenomenon of laying off journalists due to pressures related to their political affiliations and regardless of their professional competence has was present in 2010 as it was in 2009,” it said.
By Patrick Galey