Lebanon
Fig. 1. Courtesy of The Open Society Foundations, 2012.

The Open Society Foundations released its report Mapping Digital Media: Lebanon written by Jad Melki, Yasmine Dabbous, Khaled Nasser & Sarah Mallat. "The Mapping Digital Media project examines the global opportunities and risks created by the transition from traditional to digital media. Covering 60 countries, the project examines how these changes affect the core democratic service that any media system should provide: news about political, economic, and social affairs."

Lebanon is considered one of the freest countries in a region dominated by dictatorships. However, it is plagued by sectarian divisions and a confessional government system. Political groups often form around sects and traditional feudal leaders, almost all of whom are supported by foreign countries. Media development, and digital media development in particular, reflects this harsh reality.

Thanks to digital media, Lebanon’s residents have access to a variety of news platforms, from 24-hour cable channels to internet sites and text message services. Despite easy access to Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, CNN, BBC,and others through subscriptions to pirated cable bundles or satellite receivers, Lebanese households prefer local news channels. Most of the country’s news media outlets support and represent the agenda of a political personality or party. And most of them are owned, managed, or financed by local or regional powers.

Digitization has had little or no effect on changes in the media market or the impact of ownership on media performance and independence. This may be because Lebanon remains in a protracted state of transition to digitization, exacerbated by a rough political climate. Although the government has occasionally tried to improve this situation, Lebanon will have to make gigantic efforts before it can hope to embrace the digital era with a set of laws and regulations that could meet the needs of citizens and business.

From the report's executive summary:

In this context of political instability, journalists agree that digitization has a positive effect on their work, but they complain that the media are far from exploiting its potential. Newspapers merely post their print stories on the net without taking advantage of interactivity. Journalists interviewed for this report evinced a healthy distrust of the uncontrolled quality of online material. They also suggest that digital media outlets which support citizen journalism actually exacerbate partisan bias.

At the same time, social activism has benefited from digitization. The first draft of a comprehensive animal rights law, the banning of the honor crime code from the law, the protection of 170 historic buildings slated for demolition, and greater media coverage of issues concerning migrant/domestic workers were all achieved through digital activism. Organizations’ official websites and Facebook groups are the most commonly used digital tools, and have the greatest impact.

Digital activists still face many hurdles, including poor internet speeds, access to resources, privacy issues, lack of skilled personnel, general lack of legislation and government support, issues surrounding the sectarian system, and censorship. Nevertheless, activists broadly agree that the advantages offered by digital platforms and social media greatly outweigh the disadvantages.

...

The government has started to crack down on social media activists and bloggers, trying to eliminate critical online content, closing social media forums, and tracking down the people behind them. Stories of low-profile police arrests, interrogations, and intimidations abound in the social media arena and the blogosphere.

In 2010, the public prosecutor accused three citizens of defaming President Michel Suleiman, after they posted negative comments on their blogs and on a Facebook group that the president’s supporters had created. Imad Bazzi, an activist who turned to blogging after being jailed several times for critical newspaper articles, found that online journalism was no protection. Mr Bazzi has said that he and six other bloggers have been arrested, interrogated, and intimidated many times since 2005.

Contents

Mapping Digital Media
Executive Summary
Context
Social Indicators
Economic Indicators
1.  Media Consumption: The Digital Factor
1.1 Digital Take-up
1.2 Media Preferences
1.3 News Providers
1.4 Assessments
2.  Digital Media and Public or State-Administered Broadcasters
2.1 Public Service and State Institutions
2.2 Public Service Provision
2.3 Assessments
3.  Digital Media and Society
3.1 User-Generated Content (UGC)
3.2 Digital Activism
3.3 Assessments
4.  Digital Media and Journalism
4.1 Impact on Journalists and Newsrooms
4.2 Investigative Journalism
4.3 Social and Cultural Diversity
4.4 Political Diversity
4.5 Assessments
5.  Digital Media and Technology
5.1 Spectrum
5.2 Digital Gatekeeping
5.3 Telecommunications
5.4 Assessments
6.  Digital Business
6.1 Ownership
6.2 Media Funding
6.3 Media Business Models
6.4 Assessments
7.  Policies, Laws, and Regulators
7.1 Policies and Laws
7.2 Regulators
7.3 Government Interference
7.4 Assessments
8.  Conclusions
8.1 Media Today
8.2 Media Tomorrow
List of Abbreviations, Figures, Tables, and Companies

The full report is available for PDF download here.