Friday, October 1, 2010

Media Reform Through Transparency: Open Letter to Minister Mitri

Dear Minister Mitri,

Thank you for inviting suggestions regarding the new media law, which I learned about through Beirut Spring. I am writing an open letter in order to share my views with my readers.

I have high expectations of the law because you are the one taking this initiative forward.  Your track record has been laudable.

A concrete suggestion I have is to enhance the credibility of our news outlets by increasing transparency. One way to achieve this would be requiring all publications (as well as TV and Radio) that receive financial support from political parties or politicians to disclose these sums as a percentage of their budget or capital.  The exact financials need not be disclosed, as the ratio is sufficient for readers to be able to gauge the extent to which a publication is being supported either through a subsidy or an equity stake. This disclosure should be done in every issue.

These types of disclosures are standard practice in the publications of investment banks, when they publish research on an company and may have a conflict of interests.  While it is true that the political affiliation of most papers is somehow "known," for some it is not so clear.  Full disclosures are a useful daily reminder to readers.

Your previous positions on censorship are commendable. I have in mind, for example, your position on the screening of Waltz with Bashir. This is not because such censorship is both wrong and unenforceable, but in this particular case it is helping to perpetuate dishonesty about our own history (please see my post about Sabra and Shatila).

I hope the new media law will be an opportunity to completely overhaul the censorship laws. A recent article on, a gay Arab website highlights some of the Kafkaesque outcomes of our current rules: even the Australian comedy Priscilla Queen of the Desert is banned because of homosexuality!

Equally troubling is the number of movies that remain banned because of "Sympathy for Jews." All I can say about this one is to suggest a look at Facebook. You will find that the Beirut Maghen Abraham Synagogue, which will soon re-open, already has more fans than Michel Aoun. It's comforting to think that the Lebanese people are more mature than the Lebanese laws!