Status: Partly Free
Legal Environment: 18 (of 30)
Political Environment: 22 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 16 (of 30)
Total Score: 56 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)

Covers events that took place between January 1, 2008, and December 31, 2008.

  • Media freedom lost ground in 2008 as the sectarian fighting that broke out in May – leaving hundreds dead and injured – led to increased extralegal intimidation and physical violence against journalists and media outlets.

  • The constitution provides for freedom of the press, and although the media do not face direct interference from the government, political developments and violence in recent years have resulted in increased security risks and self-censorship among journalists. Journalists are prohibited from insulting the head of state or foreign leaders, and those charged with press offenses may be prosecuted in a special publications court.

  • Most court cases launched against journalists in previous years were not pursued during 2008, and there were no developments in the appeal filed by Al-Mustaqbal editor in chief Tawfiq Khattab and staff reporter Fares Khashan; authorities had fined them 50 million pounds (US$33,000) each for libel and damaging the reputation of then president Emile Lahoud in 2006. In a positive move in November, a criminal court in Beirut dismissed slander charges against Muhamad Mugraby, a prominent lawyer and human rights activist. The charges stemmed from a speech he gave in 2003, in which criticized the government and condemned the use of torture to coerce confessions from suspects.

  • The Directorate of General Security (SG) is authorized to censor all foreign magazines, books, and films before they are distributed, as well as pornography and political or religious material deemed a threat to the national security of either Lebanon or Syria. Throughout the year the SG banned or delayed the release of several films, including the Oscar-nominated Persepolis. The SG also tore two pages from the French newspaper Le Monde in October before allowing its distribution in Lebanon.

  • Political violence continued to threaten journalists' safety, and impunity for past attacks contributed to intimidation and self-censorship among journalists. Particularly troubling were the events of May 2008, which included physical attacks on journalists and photographers, the forced cessation of both television and radio broadcasts, and the destruction of studio property . On May 9, for instance, fighters led by the Shiite Islamist group Hezbollah closed four media outlets affiliated with the Future Movement, part of the governing coalition. The radio station, daily newspaper, and two television stations were allowed to resume operations five days later.

  • Lebanon hosts hundreds of periodicals and nearly a dozen daily newspapers. All national daily newspapers are privately owned, as are most television and radio stations, including six television and satellite stations and nearly three dozen radio stations. Access to satellite television has grown substantially over the last decade.

  • Some 26.6 percent of the population regularly accesses the internet. The government did not restrict such access in 2008, and there were no reports of government monitoring of websites or e-mail. In January, four university students were jailed for one week without trial on charges of slander, libel, and public insult due to comments they posted on the social-networking site Facebook.

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