New York, August 7, 2002—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned about the investigation ordered yesterday by a state prosecutor in Lebanon into accusations that Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International (LBCI), a private television station, is responsible for “inciting sectarian strife” and “disturbing general peace.”
Under investigation are LBCI’s news editor, Jean Feghali, and chairman, Pierre Daher. The charges for which they are being investigated carry penalties of up to three years in prison and a fine of as much as 100 million Lebanese pounds (US$66,100).
The accusations stem from a July 31 report the station broadcast about eight government employees who were murdered by a disgruntled colleague in the building that houses the country’s Ministry of Education. The government objected to the fact that LBCI’s news anchor pointed out that the majority of the victims shared the same religion. Witnesses interviewed in the report accused the killer of targeting Christians. The suspect, who is in custody, is a Muslim.
“Prosecuting a news station for covering an incident of clear public interest constitutes legal harassment of the media,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “We urge authorities to drop this investigation immediately and to refrain from bringing such cases against news organizations.”
The Lebanese government is extremely sensitive to any coverage of sectarian differences in the country. Lebanon’s information minister Ghazi Aridi has warned journalists repeatedly against provoking sectarian strife.