Lebanon: EU upholds freedom of the press and media

The Head of the EU Delegation to Lebanon has underscored the commitment of the EU to respect the freedom and pluralism of the media around the world, and denounce restrictions and unjustified arrests targeting journalists.
In a speech delivered earlier this week, Ambassador Angelina Eichhorst highlighted the crucial need to safeguard press freedom: "Defending freedom, rejecting violence, all this may sound obvious, yet no part of the world is spared, neither Europe, nor in the part of the world in which we find ourselves today. As long as there are journalists who are killed, persecuted, or harassed, or who simply lack the means to practice their profession, it will be worth shouting out loud and clear that the freedom of the press is freedom that is not negotiable."
In this regard, Ambassador Eichhorst stated the numerous initiatives which have been launched by the EU in the pursuit of press freedom such as the Samir Kassir Award for Freedom of the Press – the latest edition of which was launched last week – which supports the power of words against weapons and oppression, and honors those who fight for a freer press. Ambassador Eichhorst also made a reference to the Skeyes intiative which directly supports journalists, monitors violations of freedom of the press and culture, and provides legal support to journalists and intellectuals who face legal action.
Referring to the uprisings in the region last year, Ambassador Eichhorst cited a few examples to showcase the fragility of press freedom: "According to Reporters Without Borders in 2011 alone, 66 journalists were killed, including 20 in the Middle East, that is twice the number in 2010. Moreover, 252 were arrested, 553 physically attacked or threatened and 30 abducted. 2012 has already started badly with three journalists killed, including 2 in Syria."
These statistics clearly place the Near and Middle East at the bottom of the scale, and the Lebanese are aware of the fact that many journalists have paid with their lives for daring to express their views. According to the Skeyes centre, 17 sites were hacked, 55 journalists were attacked and 11 journalists were threatened with death in Lebanon in 2011. In addition, some press institutions were closed and several journalists have lost their jobs due to economic conditions. "When such acts are committed against journalists, the authorities, as protectors of freedom of expression and guarantors of justice, must take steps to punish the guilty. To those who want to undermine freedom of the press, I say, ‘you are fighting the wrong battle’," noted Eichhorst.
The Head of Delegation underlined that freedom of speech is not only a right but also a responsibility. As such, the duty of objectivity must be a continuous effort, regardless of the multiple interests involved, and information has to be constantly checked and corrected, thus adding more responsibilities to the press.
In addition, Eichhorst defined Lebanon as an open society and a unique model of diversity and pluralism in the region, as it counts amongst the freest climates for media in the Middle East, with a large concentration of media outlets and journalists. However, the media landscape has changed, with social media playing a crucial role in the current events in the Arab world, giving journalists and bloggers the tools to go beyond the traditional means of communication, and overcome the barrier of fear in their expression of ideas by simply sharing information or denouncing injustices.
Referring to the recent developments, Eichhorst stated that the age-old battle between the "sword and the pen", the battle between weapons and words, is an unequal one, adding: "You need the space and the liberty to develop your work without fear of intimidation or reprisals. You should not have to worry about censorship or feel the need to submit yourself to self-censorship, censorship risks crowding-out a debate at the expense of the public interest and national interest".
Last week, the EU Delegation in Lebanon launched the seventh edition of the Samir Kassir Award for the Freedom of the Press, in which journalists from the Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Gulf are being offered the chance to win €10,000. (ENPI Info Centre)
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EU Delegation – Lebanon
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ENPI Info Centre - €10,000 prizes on offer as EU launches seventh edition of Samir Kassir press freedom award

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