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Political actors control media

Many of Lebanon's media outlets are influenced by powerful political figures to whom they are financially and politically in debt, the International Press Institute (IPI) reports after completing a four-day press mission in October. Also, the Maharat Foundation recently released a report that scrutinises the relationship between Lebanese politics and media.

IPI talked to the country's leading editors and journalists, as well as political leaders and government officials. Although Lebanon has a vibrant media environment, a major concern is the media's alliances along political and sectarian lines. This political interference in editorial independence will only entrench divisions between the Lebanese people.

The IPI delegation suggests that news outlets should have in place voluntary codes of practice that strengthen accurate, fair and balanced reporting. It also urges media outlets to provide financial transparency and says media credibility is damaged if political groups seek to use the media as a "mouthpiece" for their own agenda.

IPI adds that political groups should permit journalists to report free of harassment and intimidation. A culture of impunity, killing of journalists and criminal defamation laws have increased self-censorship, editors and journalists told the delegation.

The Maharat Foundation studied the news content of select television and radio stations and newspapers during parliamentary elections in June. The report examines several clauses of a media electoral law that were put into place, in part, as a check against media institutions going too far in "defending, attacking or refuting the opinions and stands that they deem a nuisance to the political party that they support." It concludes that the law failed to hold the media to its standards.

The report offers a detailed account of political allegiances at TV and radio stations and newspapers. The report also comments on political forces as well as NGOs involved in monitoring elections.

Coverage of elections was not at all balanced, says Maharat. Some media institutions published survey results throughout the elections period that were found to be erroneous, and there were serious discrepancies in election results announced by media outlets, creating chaos.

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