The absence of a strong state and increasingly fiery political rhetoric have negatively influenced freedom of the press in Lebanon, as a wave of attacks against journalists in the past several years has gone largely ignored by the government, experts warn.
At least 62 journalists were attacked by individuals not belonging to the state-run police institutions in the year 2011 alone, the executive director of the media watchdog Samir Kassir Eyes Foundation Ayman Mhanna said Tuesday.
Escalating political tension between March 14 and March 8 coalitions has resulted in journalists being defined solely by the publication or television channel they belong to.
“Some journalists have started refraining from using the name of their outlet while on field work for fear of possible attacks against them, in a certain area where the outlet is not welcomed by the local residents,” Mhanna told The Daily Star.
Elias Aoun, the head of the Journalists Union, said the state is not doing enough to prevent attacks on journalists.
“The Journalists Union is not a militia to protect journalists’ safety: The government should take the safety measures,” said Aoun. “Such acts against journalists are strongly condemned: They are uncivilized and inhumane actions,” he added.
During demonstrations in Tripoli and Beirut last year in response to the nomination of a Hezbollah-backed candidate to replace then-Prime Minister Saad Hariri, National News Agency photographer Mohammad al-Saheli was attacked by protesters and stones were thrown at the crew of local television channel NBN, which is owned by Speaker Nabih Berri.
A vehicle belonging to Doha-based Al-Jazeera was also attacked and set on fire, likely as many demonstrators believed the Qatari channel to be sympathetic to Hezbollah.
No charges have been pressed against the individuals involved in any of the assaults.
Earlier this month, two journalists were beaten in two separate attacks.
Al-Akhbar’s Afif Diab was beaten in the Bekaa village of Chtaura, and Al-Jadeed’s Ghadi Francis was beaten in the Metn’s Dhour Shoueir.
Enraged by Diab’s article against the release from prison of Ziad Homsi, a Bekaa mayor who served three years for collaboration with Israel, relatives of Homsi attacked Diab in Chtaura.
Francis was beaten after a quarrel with a Syrian Social Nationalist Party member in front of Hotel Centrale in Dhour Shoueir over the weekend.
According to Francis, the SSNP member was unhappy with a curtain raiser piece she presented ahead of the SSNP elections.
“I wasn’t even inside the hotel where the elections were taking place, I was walking outside when Hussein Hashem grabbed me by the neck and tossed me to the floor and then kicked me in the stomach,” Francis told The Daily Star Tuesday.
“Hashem was armed and is a member of the SSNP,” she said.
A correspondent for Al-Akhbar, Firas al-Shoufi was also punched by Hashem, while he tried to protect Francis. The SSNP has apologized to Al-Jadeed for the attack. Francis has filed a lawsuit against Hashem and the judiciary is likely to hear its testimonies later this week.
Skeyes’ Mhanna says there has been no judicial follow-up on most of the attacks against journalists in the past several years. “This is mainly because the judiciary and the Internal Security Forces are waiting for permission from political parties to take action,” said Mhanna.
Mhanna called for a judicial initiative to put an end to this phenomenon. “There should be a judicial precedent to end all such attacks and end the impunity of the attackers.”