BEIRUT — Lebanon’s propaganda wars will have to take a breather as the country heads into parliamentary elections next year.
Media regulations and campaign ad limits are part of a new election law, passed in September as part of an earlier deal negotiated to end 19 months of political stalemate.
Negotiations also ended a crisis in May — the worst street battles since the country’s 15-year civil war — in which the media played no small part. Gunmen from then-opposition parties raided television, radio and newspaper offices owned by the Sunni Future party.
Future TV was shut down for four days, while broadcasters sharing its political line showed clips of its siege constantly. The Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. aired a fiery speech by one Future TV anchor in which she directly addressed both stations’ political opponents.
“You make me regret my journalistic objectivity,” shouted Sahar Khatib in front of an impromptu banner of Future TV’s logo.
New regulations will try to force the media out of its usual divisive role, with upcoming parliamentary elections seen as crucial for holding the peace.
A “media silence” in the 48 hours before election day will ban political programming and ads. Opinion polls will be banned 10 days prior to the election.
Media campaign spending is capped at $300,000 per candidate, and TV stations must give candidates equal airtime to promote their electoral agendas.
“The aim of these new regulations is to foster respect — if only partial — for the basic laws that govern media in this country,” says Abdel-Hadi Mahfouz, president of the National Council on Audio-Visual Media.
In Lebanon all broadcasters must acquire media licenses, the system for which already addresses the country’s precarious politics, as the broadcasting of material that incites sectarianism or national violence is banned.
It also stipulates that no one individual or party can own more than 10% of a television station.
“Practically all media institutions violate this law,” Mahfouz told Variety.