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Lebanon: A Virtual Museum for Censorship

Lebanon now boasts a Virtual Museum of Censorship, an online database of censorship cases in Lebanon since the 1940s. The website was launched by Lebanese organization MARCH to draw attention to information kept away from people.

On September 2, 2012, the day the Museum of Censorship was launched, MARCH said:

WELCOME TO THE VIRTUAL MUSEUM OF CENSORSHIP IN LEBANON !

Ever wondered WHAT was censored in Lebanon, WHEN, and particularly WHY? You have come to the right place.
Here, you will be able to look up material that was censored since the 1940′s !

Heard of something that is being censored, is under the threat of being censored or has been censored in the past that we have missed/failed to spot? Feel free to report it in order to complete the database.

Netizens can report censored movies, music, theater pieces, books, print and audiovisual content from 1940s to date on the website. They are required to give the name of the censored work, the censorship date, entity and reason.

For instance, Charlie Chaplin's Great Dictator was banned in 1940 for its anti-Nazi views. While, in 1990 LBC International received threats from the National Audiovisual Media Council to suspend its transmission over the broadcast of an interview with David Levy, the Israeli foreign Minister at that time.

In 2012, Lebanese journalist Moustafa Geha survived an assasination attempt, a cartoonist who drew Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was threatened, and Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis was banned from bookshops for “offending Islam and Iran.”

Who censors in Lebanon?

The Virtual Museum of Censorship lists four main Lebanese censorship entities:

General Security: Licensing, Monitoring, Censoring creative works

Ministry of Information: Prohibiting the entry of a foreign publication; confiscating copies of it
Provides licenses to publish for periodical publications
May suspend a TV channel for a maximum period of 3 days
Can censor cinematic works from the preliminary stage of the censorship process, along with the General Security

The special administrative committee: In the case that General Security finds what it considers enough cause to prevent part or all of the film from being screened, a decision shall be made by the committee according to a majority vote of its member to allow the film to be screened as it is, to edit certain parts of the film or to ban the film from being screened altogether. The final decision shall officially be issued by the Ministry of Interior, alone.

The National Audiovisual Media Council:The Council has become a “media watchdog”. It started off as an advisory board for the government to regulate television and radio broadcasting; the council's authority is now expanding to include regulating websites and blogs (what? exercises post- censorship on TV, radio and Internet

Censorship motives

In Lebanon, censorship practices are either politically, religiously or morally motivated. The Virtual Museum of Censorship explains:

Political reasons: regarding foreign relations with friendly countries, the censor pays considerable attention to the political sensitivities of Arab regimes and endeavors to safeguard diplomatic relations with these countries as well as banning attacks on the Palestinian cause and Arabs in general. Films on the civil war have been routinely censored since the nineties on the basis that referring to the conflict “threatens civil peace”.

Israel: regarding relations with enemy states, censorship is firstly based on a national law that calls for the boycott of all Israeli products. Secondly, there is censorship of all forms of publicity or compassion for Israel : this boycott was initially observed by the entire Arab League. Today, only Lebanon and Syria adhere to it stringently(…)

Religion: General Security will send creative works it thinks might upset religious sensitivities to their respective governing bodies (usually the Catholic Information Center or the Dar-al-Fatwa, which is Lebanon’s highest Sunni Muslim authority). Scenes or topics that question the ability of religion to counter evil and offensive scenes are removed.

Obscene and Immoral content: regarding censorship material which offends public morals, contains scenes of nudity, sex and foul language are strictly censored and the censor generally determines the extent to which the film or work does not offend public morals. Also, works that promote homosexuality are prohibited but violent scenes or scenes depicting drug use are allowed.

Twitter reactions

On Twitter, the initiative was welcomed:

@SultanAlQassemi: This is a brilliant idea: The Virtual Museum of Censorship (Lebanon) censorshiplebanon.org via @Sandmonkey Every Gulf state needs one

@mirabaz: This is great: what was censored, when and why–> censorshiplebanon.org v @SultanAlQassemi

@ramseygeorge: This is fantastic

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