Censorship controls over literary and artistic works and publications in Lebanon today fall under the jurisdiction of the General Directorate of General Security. In fact, General Security has been entrusted with the task of licensing, monitoring, and censoring creative works, which is in part carried out without a legal basis.
General Security's decision-making process is partially influenced by the opinions of religious institutions and political groups, which are often hard to access. The process of censorship is therefore even harder to track in cases where external institutions are involved.
Another form of censorship is self-censorship. Since the censoring and pressuring mechanisms of the censorship authorities are widely known among artists, there might be a tendency to avoid or obliquely address controversial topics in movies, songs, and other works. However, it is almost impossible to track self-censorship, which is why our focus here is on the mechanisms of external censorship.
Most works are censored or threatened to be banned for the following reasons:
1. Political reasons: regarding foreign relations with friendly countries, the censor pays considerable attention to the political sensitivities of Arab regimes and endeavors to safeguard diplomatic relations with these countries as well as banning attacks on the Palestinian cause and Arabs in general. Also, films on the civil war have been routinely censored since the nineties on the basis that referring to the conflict “threatens civil peace.”
2. Israel: regarding relations with enemy states, censorship is firstly based on a national law that calls for the boycott of all Israeli products. Secondly, there is censorship of all forms of publicity or compassion for Israel. In practice, however, this is often blended with censoring works that depict Judaism or Jews in a favorable or compassionate way. Censorship based on the boycott of Israel is being extended to censoring works of artists who show support of Israel and works of Jewish artists.
3. Religion: General Security will send creative works it thinks might upset religious sensitivities to their respective governing bodies (usually the Catholic Information Center or the Dar-al-Fatwa/Iftaa', which is Lebanon's highest Sunni Muslim authority). Scenes deemed offensive or topics that question the ability of religion to counter evil are removed.
4. Obscene and Immoral content: Material which offends public morals or contains scenes of nudity, sex and foul language are strictly censored. The censor generally determines the extent to which the film or work does not offend public morals. Also, works that promote homosexuality are prohibited, whereas violent scenes or scenes depicting drug use are allowed.
Censorship is practiced under two different forms:
· Prior Censorship, i.e. the censorship that precedes the completion of the work (usually local movies and theatres).
· Post-censorship, i.e. the censorship exercised on complete works (foreign/international movies and local movies that have been through prior censorship, print works and music).
|Main Player||Task||Censorship Type|
|General Security||Licensing, Monitoring, Censoring creative works||Prior and Post Censorship|
|Ministry of Information||Prohibiting the entry of a foreign publication; confiscating copies of it
Provides licenses to publish for periodical publications
May suspend a TV channel for a maximum period of 3 days
Can censor cinematic works from the preliminary stage of the censorship process, along with the General Security
|Post Censorship on print media, press and publications|
|The special administrative committee made up of the Director of Advertising and Publishing, a director and three representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of National Economy and the Ministry of Social Affairs respectively, in addition to a representative from General Security. The Ministry of Interior has the ultimate decision in censoring works.
||In case General Security finds what it considers enough reason to prevent part or all of the film from being screened, a decision shall be made by the committee according to a majority vote of its member to allow the film to be screened as it is, to edit certain parts of the film or to ban the film from being screened altogether. The final decision shall officially be issued by the Ministry of Interior, alone.
||Censorship on movies prior to release|
|The National Audiovisual Media Council||
The Council has become a "media watchdog". It started off as an advisory board for the government to regulate television and radio broadcasting; the council's authority is now expanding to include regulating websites and blogs
|Post Censorship on TV, radio and Internet|
Law: The control the General Security's Publications Department exercises over the filming of movies lacks any legal basis or legal provisions. Indeed, the only legal text regulating this form of prior-censorship can be found in a ruling made in 1934, in which the High Commissioner actually vests this power to this (his) specific post. Since the removal of the High Commissioner post, the ruling has become void. No other legal text or provision enacted thereafter relegates this power from this former authority to any other existing authority today.
Practice: Prior to filming local movies, the producer must obtain a filming permit from General Security. This permit is a condition required before receiving any form of financial assistance for film production from the Ministry of Culture, and is also required to obtain a screening permit for the actual film when it is complete. On several occasions, producers of certain films had to obtain more than ten different prior permits from various authorities to be able to proceed with filming their works, e.g. the Lebanese Army, the Internal Security Forces, district governors and other political organizations and private companies, e.g. Solidere.
General Security may censor scenes or sentences by crossing them out on the film script and asking the director to sign on the amendments as a proof of his or her approval. The censor also adds to the filming permit a statement whereby the director pledges that the film production will not constitute any damage to Lebanon or upset political or military interests.
Any scenes relating to or featuring members of the army must be authorized by the army Chief Commander. After getting authorization from General Security and the army, the producer must receive approval from the municipality.
Law: Under the law of 27 November 1947, all movies should undergo a censorship process and can't be distributed and projected to the public without authorization from the Directorate of General Security.
Practice: Once the filming is complete (and underwent prior censorship), the film will undergo another censorship clearance process before screening if it is perceived as violating the initial terms of the prior-screening permit (at the script reading stage). If General Security finds that the film or part of the film's screening should be censored, the film shall undergo another censorship process or viewing by a special administrative committee, as mentioned in the table above. However, the final decision to ban the screening of any film shall be officially issued by the Ministry of Interior.
Law: Decree 2873 dated 16/12/1959 related to the organization of the General Security states that the entity controls movies imported from abroad. However, it is important to note that no text details the terms of this control and reasons for which the movies shall not be authorized.
Practice: Films imported from abroad must first be sent to General Security in a sealed package and they shall not obtain an import permit except after customs duties have been remitted. Any films that are rejected by General Security shall be returned in a sealed envelope accompanied by a release form and claim to the Customs Department. Foreign language films must have Arabic subtitles.
Law: The Decree number 2 dated 1/1/1977 stipulates that any theatrical presentation should be preceded by an authorization from General Security.
Practice: General Security exercises control over prior
censorship on theatrical works whereby it is granted the explicit authority to
reject a theatrical performance or to approve it in whole or in parts. There
are no criteria, standards or guidelines for censorship on theatrical works or
performances, allowing General Security a wider margin to exercise censorship
in this domain.
Accordingly, anyone who wants to stage a theatrical performance must first submit an application to do so along with three copies of the play's script to General Security's Department of Publications, which is also the same department that exercises prior censorship control over film screenplays and issues filming permits.
What about improvised scenes in movies and plays? If the director adds improvised scenes to the screenplay which had previously been approved, and if General Security considers these additions a violation to the terms of the prior permits, then the final clearance for a film's screening may require removing or re-editing the scenes.
Law: The laws which regulate press and publications are, among others, the 1962 Publications Law, the Legislative Decree 104/1977, and its amendment Law No. 300, issued on March 17, 1994. The 1962 law subjects all periodical press and publications to a license to publish from the Ministry of Information following consultations with the Lebanese Press Union, with a distinction between political publications subject to the “imtiyaz” system (see below) and non-political publications who have no restrictions to being published.
The 1977 Legislative Decree subjects all print material to prior censorship from the General Security General Directorate which can censor parts or the entire publication, as well as censoring the entire bulletin if it sees so fit.
Practice: This prior licensing has turned into a kind of privileged or special license to publish referred to as an “imtiyaz” license. One of the most important criteria for granting imtiyaz licenses is the political nature of a publication: this distinction was established when a non-political publication was defined as any publication that “does not publish investigations or news or images or comments of a political nature”.
In fact, licensing for a non-political publication remains open-ended whereas a permit for any political periodical publication may not be issued after licenses have been issued for 25 political daily publications, or 20 periodical publications of which, from this sum total, 15 are to be Arabic-language daily publications or 12 periodical, Arabic-language publications. As a consequence to enforcing these legal provisions, the regulations for issuing and obtaining a political daily or periodical publishing license have turned into a special concession, or “imtiyazi status,” enjoyed by those who obtained a license before 1952 or those who got transferred a license due to some specific absence or special waiver.
In conclusion, not allowing new licensing by these forms of concessions represent the most basic infringement on press freedoms and has become a fundamental factor in restricting journalism in Lebanon only to newspapers that have or able to acquire a certain amount of capital.
In addition, General Security exercises prior censorship on imported publications if they are perceived to endanger security, upset national sentiment, damage public morals, or incite sectarian tensions.
Law: The Decree Law Number 55 issued 1967 require that flyers, printed declarations, printed communications material and the like obtain a publishing permit from General Security. This is despite the 1962 Publications Law did not place any restrictions on the freedom to publish non-periodical publications, including books. The 1967 provision stipulates that if a publishing permit is not issued within one week from the date of application, the publishing permit is to be considered rejected.
Practice: Books are very often not read by General Security as its censors judge the book's validity by the cover page and/or the title of the book.
Law: The freedoms of audiovisual media are subject to different forms of censorship controls according to Media Law No. 382 (1994) concerning televised and radio broadcast; Decree No. 7997 (1996), which requires that terms of reference (regulations) are put in place for all forms of audio and visual media, according to media category; Law No. 531 (1996), regarding satellite broadcast; and Legislative Decree No. 104/1977 regarding publication offenses.
Practice: The 1994 law stipulates that private media corporation requires a license, which is valid for 16 years and which is renewable only by a decree granted by the cabinet after consultations are conducted with the National Council for Audiovisual Media, thus creating a situation similar to the “imtiyaz” privilege for print publications.
In addition to this, radio and television are subject to:
· Prior censorship exercised by General Security with regard to certain broadcast media material, such as documentary films, series or feature films. Programs that are based on live broadcast such as news broadcasts, as well as the reports and interviews included in such broadcasts, are exempt from prior censorship, as are political talk shows, entertainment programs or programs of social nature that are filmed live in the studio.
There is no significant pre-censorship or pressure concerning radio stations airing controversial songs.
· Administrative post-censorship exercised by the Ministry of Information and the National Council for Audiovisual Media: these controls include the right not to renew a license and the right to halt a broadcast corporation's broadcast.
· Post-censorship exercised by the courts in cases where television and radio corporations have been charged with certain violations.
TV stations are especially pressured into not airing certain music videos, mainly for political reasons. This can include the depiction of state officials such as policemen.
A special case is the censorship taking place during elections, when the audiovisual media must comply to restrictions which include: maintaining a neutral stance; refraining from supporting or promoting any candidate or electoral list; refraining from libeling, slandering, defaming or offending any candidate or electoral list; refraining from broadcasting anything which may incite sectarian, religious or ethnic strife or discord, or anything which may incite acts of violence or disorder or anything which may support acts of terrorism, criminal acts or acts of vandalism; refraining from broadcasting anything that may constitute a means of pressuring or form of intimidation, or anything which may be understood as accusations of treason or blasphemy, or anything which may be understood as enticements, or as promises of material or moral gain; refraining from distorting, withholding, fabricating, concealing or misrepresenting information; committing to a balanced representation between competing electoral lists and candidates in its broadcasts; and refraining from broadcasting any electoral promotion, advertisement or appeal from hour zero of the day prior to election day and until polling stations and ballot boxes have been officially closed.
Law: General Security's censorship of musical recordings and their import and distribution is based on Article 9 of Legal Decree No. 2873 (1959). This article grants the Censorship Department (for publications and recordings) the authority to censor audio tapes and records (now CDs) imported from abroad.
Practice: General Security has a list of criteria that the album cover and title should meet in order to be allowed. The list includes the reasons for censorship as mentioned above. However, officials do not take the time to listen to each song and music work individually to decide whether or not to completely or partially ban the album, songs, or censor the album cover. Most of the time, they focus on the song titles, the band name, and/or the album cover.
Law: The Cybercrime and Intellectual Property Rights Bureau was established by means of a Service Memorandum (number 204/609 dated March 8, 2006) without issuing a decree to amend the organizational structure of the Internal Security Forces (ISF). It is attached to the Special Criminal Investigations Department of the ISF's Judicial Police, which is concerned with state security crimes, terrorism, money laundering, and international larceny.
Practice: Public Prosecution offices refer all complaints related to internet related crimes to the Cybercrime Bureau, while granting it the right to carry out comprehensive criminal investigations. Therefore, the Cybercrime Bureau can summon any person for investigation at its offices, including individuals facing complaints over something they published on Twitter, Facebook, or in a blog.
Despite the fact that Law 140/1999 protects the confidentiality of electronic communications, the Cybercrime Bureau has the necessary technical capability to access Lebanese users' private correspondence.
In conclusion, even if the reasons mentioned above are attributed to censored works, the censorship process is completely arbitrary and random; a work that was banned one month can be authorized the following month, depending on the employee viewing it.
Sources: Censorship in Lebanon: Law and Practice by N. Geagea, N. Saghieh & R. Saghieh