Caretaker Information Minister, Dr. Manal Abdel Samad Najd, said in a statement today marking World Press Freedom Day, that “the efforts of all concerned parties must focus actively on enhancing freedom of opinion and expression and the work of media professionals, and the advancement of both public and private media sectors, especially in light of Lebanon’s decline in world ranking for press freedom over the years, after it was at the forefront of countries in protecting media liberties, with the need to keep pace with technological development and modern technologies.”
“One of the key solutions to boosting freedom of opinion and expression is a modern and advanced media law that includes modern provisions,” Abdel Samad emphasized.
In this context, she explained that the Ministry of Information has introduced fundamental amendments to the Media Law proposal forwarded by Justice and Administration Parliamentary Committee, based on the opinions and suggestions of media and legal professionals and specialists.
Additionally, there were recommendations issued after a series of “Town Hall” meetings held at the Government Serail over a period of three days devoted to audio-visual, written and electronic media, where the Information Ministry invited media officials and representatives of these outlets to discuss the media situation and ways to promote it, enhance freedom of opinion and expression, and protect media professionals. Some of the prominent modifications made were:
* Law unification (audio-visual, written & electronic media)
* Replacing the term “media crimes” and with “media acts”
* Excluding special provisions related to the media from appearing on the judicial record
* Unifying the legal and judicial reference in a media court
* Abolishing prison sentences for media professionals and replacing them with a financial penalty
* Respect for international human rights law and observance of international standards for freedom of opinion and expression.
After introducing the necessary adjustments, Abdel Samad handed the amended version of the Media Law proposal to the Head of the Administration and Justice Parliamentary Committee, urging him to work to approve it the soonest possible for the benefit of the media sector.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Information continues to exert relentless efforts to promote the greatest amount of media freedom in parallel with respecting the Charter of Ethics of the Profession signed by the various media outlets. “The Ministry has turned into a beehive by organizing ongoing workshops and virtual conferences, despite the circumstances of the Corona pandemic; in addition to its coverage and transmission of news that includes various official bodies, parties and the opposition, without any discrimination,” the statement explained.
“As for the law on the right to access information, which the Ministry of Information considers an essential prelude for protecting freedom of opinion and expression, in preparation for promoting the concept of open governance, it has published on its website all texts and information that the public has the right to see, under the headline: The right to access information. This includes the Ministry’s decision, the law, the implementation minutes of the law, the media plan, new licenses, decrees and circulars,” the statement added. It also indicated that two specialized information officers were assigned to establish effective communication with information seekers and provide them with the necessary requirements, following the issuance of the implementation decree related to the right to access information.
“The media plan prepared by the Ministry of Information on the right to access information law aims to keep the audience well-informed of their rights stipulated by the law, and to spread a new culture based on promoting transparency and accountability through a coordinated media campaign, including the launch of a simple and clear series of videos,” the statement underlined.
It also pointed to the conference on the “Role of the Media in Protecting Human Rights and Promoting Transparency” which was organized by the Information Ministry on December 5, 2020, marking the International Anti-Corruption Day and International Human Rights Day, which hosted representatives of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), civil society, and a group of parliamentary and human rights figures, and was transmitted via “Lebanon TV” and the social media platforms of the Ministry of Information.
“On December 21, 2020, the Ministry of Information, in cooperation with the Ministry of Administrative Development (OMSAR, former MP Ghassan Moukheiber, UNDP and UNESCO), organized a consultative meeting through the “Zoom” application, with a number of civil society organizations and bodies concerned with combating corruption, during which talks centered on cooperation between both sides in implementing the media plan set by the Ministry for the Right to Access Information Act,” the statement continued.
It added that the Information Ministry and the UNESCO Office in Beirut also organized four free virtual training workshops dedicated to journalists, media students and media professionals at the Ministry.
Moreover, Minister Abdel Samad had previously held a series of meetings with the heads of the boards of private media institutions, with the aim of discussing and finalizing the media plan draft with their collaboration.
“The Ministry of Information is keen on having various media outlets as main partners in spreading awareness about the law and in raising the level of transparency in the work of public institutions, as it is the fourth authority that publishes, monitors, questions and holds accountable,” the Caretaker Information Minister’s statement corroborated.
“The Information Ministry conducts continuous meetings with media students in various universities to listen to their demands and suggestions,” Abdel Samad’s statement asserted, assuring that “the Ministry always seeks to promote, fortify and protect the right to freedom of opinion and expression, so that Lebanon returns to being a pioneering model in liberties.”