IMPLEMENTATION OF THE BROADCASTING LAW
"Many of my friends told me that this battle would tarnish my image, but I believe that it is a battle that must be waged and the state must succeed in regulating the media. I believe that we have succeeded."
-Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, January 1997.
On February 29, 1996, President Hrawi issued Decree No. 7997, which was designed to implement the provisions of the broadcasting law. The decree specified the legal, financial, and managerial requirements for privately owned stations seeking licenses; outlined technical and program requirements; set forth advertising regulations and licensing fees; and provided a list of the documents to be submitted with licensing applications. The decree reiterated some of the guiding principles set forth in the 1994 broadcasting law, and included supplemental, vaguely worded restrictions on content to which licensed stations must adhere, including the following:
· "Not broadcasting any matter or commentary seeking to affect directly or indirectly the well-being of the nation's economy and finances."
· "Not broadcasting and not transmitting any matter seeking to inflame or incite sectarian or religious chauvinism, or seeking to push society, and especially children, to physical and moral violence, moral deviance, terrorism, or racial and religious segregation."
· "Not broadcasting any slander, disparagement, disgrace, defamation, or falsities about natural or juridical persons."14
Restrictions on News, Political Programs, and Live Broadcasts
The decree specified and limited the type of programs that licensed television stations were permitted to broadcast. Stations that received authorization to broadcast news would be limited to a maximum of 280 hours of locally produced news annually, and no news broadcast could exceed thirty minutes.15 The decree further required that news and political programs conform to "presentation in an objective manner, the preservation of the supreme national interest, and the respect for laws in force," and distinguish "between that which is news and objective on the one hand, and that which is propagandistic and promotional on the other." Stations violating these guidelines face prosecution under Lebanon's penal code.
The decree also sharply restricted live broadcasts of political gatherings. While it permitted broadcasting of events and celebrations "of a general national nature," it categorically banned live broadcasts of "any celebration of a political nature not licensed by the relevant authorities." Because of the ban on public demonstrations that has been in effect in Lebanon since August 1993, this provision of the decree in effect ensures that stations may not broadcast, live, Lebanese citizens attempting to exercise their internationally recognized right to freedom of assembly.16
Similar restrictions applied with respect to live broadcasts of religious events. Those that
commemorate publicly observed religious holidays were permitted, but other special religious events would be allowed only "in exceptional circumstances" and with the prior approval of the cabinet.
Operating Stations Denied Licenses; News and Political Programs Banned
By June 1996, sixty-three radio and television stations submitted applications for broadcasting licenses, according to Sami Shaar, president of the NCVAM, which reviewed the applications.17 He told Human Rights Watch that the NCVAM relied on Law No. 382 and Decree No. 7997 to evaluate the applications.18
On September 17, 1996, the cabinet granted broadcasting licenses to four television stations, all of them partly owned by, or linked indirectly through shareholders to, leading government officials and other political figures. Eleven radio stations were licensed to broadcast on the FM band, but only three of the stations were permitted to broadcast news and political programming. The definition of "political programming" in the 1996 broadcasting decree is so broadly worded that it effectively excludes the stations from airing any program concerning the government's foreign or domestic policies.19 In a supplemental and equally controversial move, the minister of information announced that the unlicensed radio and television stations were "banned from broadcasting [news] reports and direct and indirect political programs" as of September 18, 1996.20 It was also reported that the minister informed the unlicensed stations on September 24, 1996, that "they are not allowed to relay news and political programs relayed by Arab and international stations and received through satellites."21 Estimates of the number of radio and television stations affected by this decision range from thirty-seven to fifty-seven television stations and one hundred to 150 radio stations.22 Stations that were notably critical of government policies were not licensed or, if licensed, were not authorized to broadcast news and political programs.
The three licensed television stations said to be directly linked to government and political figures are: Future Television, reportedly owned by relatives and close political associates of Prime Minister Hariri; Murr Television, owned by Gabriel Murr, the brother of Interior Minister Michel Murr, Saudi Prince al-Walid bin Talal,23and several government ministers,24 among other shareholders; and the National Broadcasting Network, a station that is not yet on the air but is to be launched by speaker of the parliament Nabih Berri.25 The fourth licensed station is the Lebanese Broadcasting Company International (LBCI), ranked as Lebanon's most widely viewed television station.26 LBCI was established by the Lebanese Forces, a Christian militia, in the mid-1980s. Its current owners include Pierre Daher, the station's general manager since its inception, and, reportedly, a number of pro-Syrian politicians, including Minister of Health Suleiman Franjiyyeh and parliamentary deputies Issam Fares, Nabil Bistanni, and Michel Faroun.
Two of the television stations not licensed were New Television (NTV) and the Independent Communications Network (ICN), both described as "overtly oppositional in their political coverage" by the independent, Beirut-based Lebanese Center for Policy Studies.27 NTV, established in 1991, is worth about $21 million, according to its general manager.28 The station's chairman is Tahseen Khayat, a businessman from Sidon, the home town of Prime Minister Hariri. Khayat is known as a critic of the prime minister. ICN, founded in 1992, is also well-financed and regularly aired political commentary critical of the Hariri government. In April 1993, the station was ordered closed indefinitely by court order; it went back on the air six months later.29 Manar TV - Hizballah's station and the fifth largest in Lebanon in terms of revenue, according to The Independent - was also denied a license.30
In a demonstration of the still highly charged religious sensitivities in Lebanon, Lebanese Maronite Christians complained to the government about Manar remaining on the air while Télé-Lumière - a Catholic television station that does not air overtly political or news programming but features religious talk shows and news from the Vatican - was forced off. They told Human Rights Watch that President Hrawi intervened in parliamenton Télé-Lumière's behalf, and arranged for the station to air for twelve hours daily, using Télé-Liban's airwaves.31 They said that the other twelve hours would be shared by two other religious organizations, the Supreme Shiite Council and Dar al-Fatwa Islam, a Sunni group.32 Supporters of Télé-Lumière also told Human Rights Watch that they were irate with the government for eliminating every television and radio station belonging to the Assembly of the Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops headed by the Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Nasrallah Sfair. They said that six Catholic denominations and seven other Christian denominations were attempting to form a coalition in order to secure a station for themselves.33
Of the eleven radio stations licensed to broadcast, only three of them were authorized to air news and political programs: Radio Orient, owned by Future Television; National Broadcasting Network radio, which will be established by Nabih Berri; and Radio Free Lebanon, which was formerly owned by LBCI and currently is owned by a consortium of investors. No private stations were licensed on the AM radio frequency, based on the recommendations of the government's Television and Radio Regulatory Committee (see below). Critics charged that the government violated the broadcasting law by monopolizing the AM frequency, noting that the law did not reserve the AM frequency for the state and that Decree No. 7997 made no mention of the AM frequency.34
Two of the oldest radio stations in the country were affected by the cabinet's decisions. Voice of the People, which is owned by the Communist Party and critical of government policies, was denied a license. Voice of Lebanon, formerly owned by the Phalange party and also critical of the government, was licensed but was not permitted to broadcast news and political programs.35 Both stations had large listening audiences.
When then-Minister of Information Farid Makari announced the names of the stations granted licenses, he indicated that the cabinet's decision was based on the report of the NCVAM, and that the cabinet "accepted the NCVAM's legal opinion and decided to license the establishments that have fulfilled the legal conditions [of the broadcasting law and the decree]."36 NCVAM members told Human Rights Watch that it was merely a "coincidence" that stations closely tied to the most powerful Lebanese government officials received the bulk of the licenses, explaining that these stations had submitted the strongest applications.37 A senior Lebanese government official whorequested anonymity told Human Rights Watch that the stations granted licenses were "basically the major stations that are commercially viable." But Mohammed Obeid, general director of the ministry of information, conceded in an interview with The Washington Post that the selection of the stations to be licensed was, in part, "a political decision."38
The minister of information also announced that the unlicensed stations had to liquidate their assets and close by November 30, 1996. In what perhaps was a conciliatory gesture, he said too that those denied licenses had until the end of November 1996 to submit new applications addressing deficiencies noted by the NCVAM. "If these institutions correct the mistakes in their files and lodge new applications...they might be granted licenses if there was still room [for them to go on air]."39 Exactly what the government intended was unclear.
As of this writing, the situation remains at a stalemate. Information Minister Bassem al-Sab'a announced on November 30, 1996, that the unlicensed stations would not be ordered to close at midnight, as had been threatened. He said that the broadcasting law would be "implemented under a new mechanism to be studied...in the few coming days."40 Despite this hiatus, the unlicensed stations continue to be barred from broadcasting news and political programs, and the information minister warned them that the government was intent that this prohibition be respected.41 He reiterated the warning in February 1997, and said that legal measures would be taken against violators of the law.42
The quarterly Lebanon Report, published by the Beirut-based Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, described the situation this way:
[A] new status quo appears to have been put in place, and observers expect it to last for some time: non-licensed stations remain on the air but cannot broadcast news programs, which are a source of advertising revenues. This, and uncertainty as to the future, have also prevented non-licensed stations - particularly television stations - from up-scaling their programming, which has further reduced revenues and lost the stations much of their audience. This state of limbo, while not entirely to the government's advantage, is far more to the disadvantage of the non-licensed stations.43
For his part, Prime Minister Hariri maintained that implementation of the broadcasting law was a success, and had "not harmed anyone." He said that the measures taken by the government were designed "to build serious media institutions capable of enhancing culture and civilization," and added:
That is my plan for the media, but I have been fought much. Many of my friends told me that this battle would tarnish my image, but I believe that it is a battle which must be waged and the statemust succeed in regulating the media. I believe that we have succeeded. In 1997 Lebanon will witness the birth of a group of major media institutions with the highest level of technical and technological qualifications to contribute seriously to the development of science and culture in the country.4414 Chapter 1, General Rules. 15 Chapter 3, Programs. 16 A ban on all demonstrations by a decree of the cabinet has been in effect in Lebanon since August 1993. In response to public demands, the parliament recommended on September 14, 1993, that the cabinet lift the ban. On September 18, 1993, the parliament's recommendation was rejected, and the cabinet reiterated the categorical ban on demonstrations. 17 Article 19 of the broadcasting law charges the NCVAM with "the study of licensing requests presented to the Council of Ministers and which are transmitted to it from the Minister of Information," "confirmation that the request meets the requirements of law," and "offering to the Council of Ministers its advisory opinion on whether to grant the licensing request or to refuse it." 18 Interview, Beirut, November 12, 1996. NCVAM member Antoine Karam also attended this meeting. 19 The decree defined political programming as follows: "Programs that discuss domestic or foreign politics and issues of public concern related to the work of ministries, all public authorities and institutions, and municipalities, their relationship with citizens and with each other, and the behavior of their employees." (Chapter 3, Programs.) 20 Statement of Information Minister Farid Makari reported by Radio Lebanon, September 17, 1996. 21 Beirut Radio Lebanon, September 24, 1996, citing Information Minister Farid Makari. 22 No one interviewed by Human Rights Watch in Lebanon was able to offer an exact number of the radio and television stations on the air. 23 The broadcasting law states that shareholders of television and radio stations must be Lebanese citizens (Article 13). Gabriel Murr confirmed to Human Rights Watch that Prince al- Walid bin Talal owned shares in Murr Television. He said that the prince received his Lebanese citizenship by a special decree because his mother was a Lebanese citizen married to a Saudi citizen, and showed a Human Rights Watch representative a copy of the citizenship decree but refused to provide a copy. (Interview, Beirut, November 11, 1996.) Under Lebanese law, if a Lebanese woman marries a non-Lebanese, neither herhusband nor her children are entitled to Lebanese citizenship. 24 Faris Buwayz, minister of foreign affairs; Eli Hubayqah, minister of hydoelectric resources and electricity; and Druse leader Walid Jumblatt, minister of the displaced, reportedly "represented" through his political advisor Ghazi Aride. The names of the ministers were provided to Human Rights Watch by Gabriel Murr. (Interview, Beirut, November 11, 1996.) 25 Nabih Berri is one of the three members of Lebanon's ruling "troika," representing Shia Muslim interests. Since Lebanon's independence in 1943, the speaker of parliament has always been a Shiite. The other members of the troika are Prime Minister Hariri and President Hrawi. 26 Reuter, "Lebanon TV Station to Beam by Satellite from Rome," January 23, 1996. 27 "Switching off the competition," The Lebanon Report, No. 3, Fall 1996, p. 9. 28 Telephone interview with Khalil Abu Shawarb, October 11, 1996. He added that NTV has twenty-five shareholders and working capital of $10 million. 29 For details about the closure, see Middle East Watch and the Fund for Free Expression, "Lebanon's Lively Press Faces Worst Crackdown Since 1976," July 1993. 30 Manar has about $10 million in capital, a Hizballah spokesman told Human Rights Watch. (Telephone interview, September 30, 1996.) As of October 2, 1996, both Manar Television and Hizballah's Voice of Light radio station (also not licensed) were allowed to resume broadcasting until the Israeli military occupation of south Lebanon ends, but the stations were permitted only to broadcast news and political programming related to the resistance against Israel. The Hizballah spokesperson told Human Rights Watch that Syrian president Hafez al-Asad had intervened with President Hrawi to effect this special arrangement. 31 The station incorporated as non-profit organization on October 15, 1996, after it was denied a license on September 17, 1996. The station does not accept advertising. 32 Human Rights Watch was unable to reach anyone at the Shiite group for comment, and the Sunni group did not have any comments when contacted by Human Rights Watch. 33 Interviews, Beirut, November 12, 1996. 34 In a letter dated January 13, 1997, and in a meeting with Lebanese ambassador Riad Tabbarah in Washington, D.C., on January 22, 1997, Human Rights Watch asked the Lebanese government to explain the rationale for this decision. As of this writing, we have not received a response. 35 Sheikh Simon El-Khazen, the chairman of Voice of Lebanon, showed a Human Rights Watch representative a copy of the license that the station had been granted in 1976 to broadcast on the AM frequency. He said that the station was founded that year by the Phalangist party, but that it recently had reincorporated to become more diversified. He contended that the government and the courts never withdrew the station's license, but that in the licensing evaluation process it was treated in the same manner as the unlicensed stations and that its previous license was ignored. He also noted that Voice of Lebanon has a $3 million annual budget and 200 employees. Interview, November 5, 1996. 36 Radio Lebanon, "Lebanon Licenses 15 Radio and TV Stations," September 17, 1996, as reported by BBC Monitoring Service: Middle East, September 19, 1996. 37 Interview with NCVAM president Sami Shaar and member Antoine Karam, Beirut, November 12, 1996. 38 John Lancaster, "Lebanon, With a Nudge From Syria, Is Leaning on Once Outspoken Media," The Washington Post, January 31, 1997. 39 Reuter, "Ban on Lebanon TV and Radio Goes Into Effect," September 18, 1996. 40 Reuter, "Unlicensed Lebanon Media Get New Lease on Life," November 30, 1996. 41 Radio Lebanon reported the following on November 28, 1996: "Minister al-Sab'a warned that if some sides violate the law and the publicized governmental measures, particularly regarding broadcasting news and political programs on unlicensed television and radio stations, the Ministry will be compelled to implement the laws governing violations." 42 Beirut Radio Lebanon, February 13, 1997, as reported in FBIS-NES-97-031, February 13, 1997. 43 "Free to be quiet," The Lebanon Report, No. 4, Winter 1996, p.9. 44 Interview in al-Sharq al-Awsat (London), January 20, 1997, as reported in FBIS-NES-97-014, January 20, 1997.