MTV Lebanon: Stop Using Freedom of Speech


“MTV also led the way in terms of its adoption of self-regulation and a clear code of ethics…”

There is a channel in Lebanon that stigmatizes, discriminates and smear the reputation of already marginalized groups: Palestinian refugees, migrant workers, LGBT individuals. A channel that adds fire to the highly inflammable fuel that is the Lebanese societal fabric, then hides behind the Human Right that is Freedom of Speech, blatantly using a body of law they have no qualms violating for other people.

MTV Lebanon has been provoking the ire of people opposed to any form of discrimination by airing so called “documentaries” on migrant workers and LGBT Individuals and, again, so called “funny” skits on Palestinians, women and migrant workers.

Some of the videos of the show “Ktir Salbeh” can be found on YouTube for the Arabic-Speaking readers to get a sense of how terminally offensive, racist and sexist their rhetoric is . Basically they compile all stereotypes pertaining to these vulnerable groups: migrant workers are stupid, liars and thieves and Palestinians have all the rights they need in the world while poor Lebanese people are struggling. The channel’s political stance also appears through other shows, as exemplified by Joe Maalouf’s show “enta horr” where gay men were targeted.

Indeed, the last scandal stems from a report MTV carried out on a gay friendly cinema in Burj Hammoud, where already persecuted gay men used to gather. Here it is worth noting that homosexuality is still considered a criminal offense under article 534 of the Lebanese penal Code, and that gay men and women are oftentimes subjected to harassment, “corrective” rape, atrocious beatings and virginity tests when they get arrested, not to mention the ostracism they face from society and sometimes their families, making the already difficult process of coming out even more problematic. This situation is coupled with the issue of class, with underprivileged LGBTIs not having the resources to travel abroad or pay their way out of jail, or the connections to get them out of difficult situations. In this situation, MTV Lebanon chose to air a documentary during Joe Maalouf’s show “enta horr” giving out a very moralistic and judgmental take on the “immoral” things happening in the cinema. This show prompted and enabled the authorities to arrest 36 men, most of whom were subjected to virginity tests and ill and degrading treatment, something Maalouf doesn’t feel he’s responsible for as he told Al Akhbar, adding he did not regret anything as “public morality” “needed to be protected”.

MTV Lebanon uses ethics and freedom of speech as marketing tools: since its (unlawful) forced closing by the Lebanese government in 2002 and its reopening in 2007, the channel has always insisted on the values of “freedom”, preparing its re-launch with the poster of a mouth being uncovered. What the channel seems to have forgotten in the process is that freedom of speech comes with a responsibility, as stated in many international law treaties, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966. While is is the State of Lebanon that has signed on to the Treaty, the responsibility to abide by Human Rights Law falls on every citizen and every corporation, the individual being a subject of law in Human Rights Law. Lebanon has ratified the ICCPR in November 1972.

Article 19 reads as follows:
1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.

2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.

3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:

(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;

(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.

The Human Rights Committee, whose one of many tasks is to clarify and interpret Human Rights Law, has worked quite extensively on the issue of article 19 and indicated in its general comment N.34 of 2011 that a State should take all necessary measures to ensure that freedom of opinion and expression are guaranteed and can be exercised freely, without any constraint, but has also mentioned that a legal ground for restricting that right (under very specific conditions that need to be respected) is the respect of the rights and reputation of others.

By violating the rights of others, MTV has facilitated the arrest of 36 men in July, three of them still being charged with “homosexuality” to this day and 36 of them having endured virginity tests, a practice that has been deemed torture by the head of the Lebanese doctor’s syndicate, Dr. Sharaf Abu Sharaf, urging doctors to refuse performing such acts and that has been criticized by Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi who “had sent a memo two months ago to the attorney general urging him to halt random rectal examination procedures, after the issue was raised by human rights organisations”.

These men have been outed, their right to privacy and to live without having to endure torture and inhuman and degrading treatments violated.
Palestinians and migrant workers have to endure something very akin to smear campaigns.
All of this thanks to the Skewed media coverage provided by MTV Lebanon.

As a media, the channel has a responsibility to Respect people’s rights and to avoid incitement to hatred. As a state under internal obligations, Lebanon should do the same, and should at the very least issue public condemnation of the channel racist and homophobic stance.

There is a demonstration today at 10:00 in front of the Ministry of Justice in Beirut calling for the end to vaginal and anal examinations. Join if you can, just for the simple reason that the people who had to endure them are human beings.



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