Broadcast stations shut down

New York, September 5, 2002—Lebanese security officers yesterday raided the private Lebanese television station Murr TV (MTV) and Mount Lebanon Radio Station, roughed up employees, and forcibly shut down the stations.

One MTV employee told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that the Internal Security Forces did not present a judicial order and that they were verbally abusive—pushing staff around as they raided the building and ordering all employees to leave immediately.

According to sources familiar with the case, the shuttering of the station was based on a Beirut court order ruling that MTV had violated a law that prohibits news stations from broadcasting propaganda during elections.

The television and radio stations are owned by Gabriel Murr, a member of Parliament who opposes Syria’s political influence in Lebanon. Although the Lebanese press has traditionally steered clear of criticism of Syria, both stations have been critical of the Syrian and Lebanese governments. Murr won in the June parliamentary elections.

The court decision was not based on a particular political advertisement, but on promotional spots aired on the station during the June elections, said a source at the station. The promotional spots urged citizens to register to vote and did not mention Murr by name.

State prosecutors originally brought the case against MTV in August on charges that included harming relations with Syria, as well as violating the elections law. At that time the prosecutors also opened an investigation into another independent station, Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International, but no charges have been filed.

“The arbitrary and violent actions of the Lebanese security forces are a grave threat to press freedom in the country,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “MTV should be allowed to reopen immediately.”