Lebanese media are formally organised under the 1962 Press Law and the 1994 Audiovisual Media Law, but in many aspects rules are respected only on paper. The 1962 Law was officially enacted in order to “protect the press from random abusive interventions” and to shield the State and its citizens from biased campaigns in the press. The law defines a journalist as being at least 21 years of age, having a baccalaureate degree and having apprenticed for at least four years. Practicing journalists do not require certification, although those with a degree in journalism must register with the LPES, whilst it is the Ministry of Information that issues annual press cards.
As is the case for other Arab states’ press laws, the Lebanese text states vaguely that “nothing may be published that endangers national security […] national unity […] or that insults high-ranking Lebanese officials […] or a foreign head of State”. It is difficult not to perceive a subtle warning to reporters behind these loaded and ambiguous expressions. In the recent past, several episodes have focused attention on the concrete danger posed by these controversial articles in the Law.
According to the 1962 Press Law, in order to own a newspaper, both the owner and all stockholders of a joint-stock company must be Lebanese citizens. However, in practice the law is often dodged by foreigners who buy stocks under Lebanese names. As a result, a number of Lebanese newspapers depend on foreign funding.
The 1994 Audiovisual Media Law separated TV and radio stations into two categories: those licensed for broadcasting news and political coverage and those focusing only on entertainment or general interest content. As mentioned before, the new rule on the one hand abolished the State broadcasting monopoly; whilst, on the other hand, it forced dozens of TVs and radio stations to close, thus favouring the emergence of a few powerful local and regional tycoons at the expense of pluralism and freedom of expression.
Flagrant contradictions in the country’s media laws and regulations have been periodically reported, revealing the lack of an effective framework to regulate media work and the legal rights of media workers. Not only laws governing media in Lebanon are outdated, but also they can be found in the penal code, the Elections Law, the Press Law, the Military Justice Code, and the Audiovisual Media Law, creating a logistical nightmare of overlapping jurisdictions. The digitisation and new digital media also necessitate the establishment of new laws and regulations. Cybercrime and Intellectual Property Bureau was founded in Lebanon in 2006. It is part of the Internal Security Forces (ISF) with the aim to manage and monitor the internet contrasting cybercrime, like child pornography, thefts, scams, frauds, etc.
In 2010, Mr Tariq Mitri, who was then minister of information, launched a series of consultations with journalists, media owners, advocacy groups, and politicians to identify priorities and guidelines for a new comprehensive legal framework. The heated debate that was taking place got stopped when the unity government collapsed in January 2011, and then stalled by the ensued political paralysis.
A 2013 Ministry of Telecommunication report (the minister in charge was then Nicolas Sehnaoui) stated that a new media law, “essential to the development of the sector”, was still awaiting approval by the parliament. The draft included several key amendments to comprise digital television and various broadcast formats (Internet Protocol Television and Mobile TV). The report, however, did not mention any substantial overhaul to control the many flaws of the current legal frame.
A law regulating e-commerce and data protection in Lebanon was approved only in late 2018, consistently late if considered the world’s average. The Law No. 81/2018 updates the 2004 law that was regulating the field. The law introduces the recognition of electronic documents as evidence and facilitates the expansion of the online commerce sector. However, it presents consistent flaws regarding data and consumers protection. According to SMEX, there is no reflection of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), failing to provide standards of protections shared by many other countries. In this case as well, the overlap of different ministries’ authority makes the provisions unclear and of difficult application, resulting in dangerous and unsafe conditions for users’ privacy and protection.