While journalists thought the October 2019 revolution brought an end to public figures who are untouchable by the media, political pressure is stronger than ever.
Genuine freedom of expression does exist in Lebanese media, but in reality the sector is controlled by a handful of individuals directly affiliated with political parties or belonging to local dynasties. The most influential television networks are LBCI, Al Jadeed and MTV, belonging, respectively, to the Daher-Saad, Khayat and Murr families. Al Manar is the official Hezbollah television network.
Political parties have a stranglehold on the media, which depends on investors and reflects the Lebanese political structure. The press reflects the country’s political and communal separatism, including religious supervision of the media. Hence, journalism has become a full-fledged weapn in the political conflict.
The law requires the media to be transparent about their ownership and financing. However, some outlets have established especially opaque ownership structures. Defamation, calumny and dissemination of false information are covered in the penal code, which defines these violations broadly. One troubling development is the weaponisation of the justice system, with media outlets and journalists regularly ordered to pay fines or sentenced to prison terms in absentia.
The media are suffering from the effects of the historic financial crisis afflicting the country. The explosion at the Port of Beirut, in August 2020, has forced them to make enormous budget cuts, affecting both their activities and their employee headcount. A large number of journalists and newsrooms based in the capital and affected by the explosion depend on international aid to recover from and to deal with the crisis. Fuel shortages and blackouts prevent them from reporting on the ground.
Public opinion is predominantly conservative, and some topics are taboo, such as criticism of cultural and religious heritage. Misogyny and racism are common, and women journalists are often targeted by defamation campaigns. Political militants participate in these campaigns, especially Hezbollah activists, who use Twitter to threaten journalists.
In demonstrations during the October 2019 revolution, attacks and prosecutions against journalists intensified. Law enforcement agencies resort to disproportionate use of force. Reporters working for media outlets linked to the government are abused by demonstrators, who do not trust them.