ARTICLE 19 has submitted an amicus brief to the Special Tribunal of Lebanon on the contempt of court case held against Al-Jadeed TV and Karma Khayat. The trial starts on 16 April. Khayat, deputy head of news at Al Jadeed, faces up to seven years in prison, while the station could be ordered to pay fines of up to €100,000.
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon, set up by the UN Security Council in 2009 in order to prosecute those responsible for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafic Hariri, has been politically controversial in Lebanon and there have been multiple instances of leaks from the court. In August 2012, Al-Jadeed TV broadcast five episodes in which they interviewed witnesses to the Special Tribunal of Lebanon. Al-Jadeed TV had received a leaked list of witnesses and broadcast a series aimed at revealing the vulnerability of the witnesses and the lack of protection provided to them by the court. While the station ensured that the names of the witnesses were not revealed and their faces were blurred, the TV station and its deputy head of news have been indicted for contempt of court and undermining public confidence in the Tribunal.
ARTICLE 19’s amicus brief calls on the Tribunal to consider the following points in the proceedings:
- Public watchdog: International law recognises the role of the media as a public watchdog in reporting on matters of public interest, including the operation of the judiciary. This kind of media reporting enables public scrutiny of the functioning of the criminal justice system.
- Blanket restrictions: Rules on contempt of court should never impose blanket restrictions on the ability of the media to report on an important dimension of the work of the judiciary, in this case the protection of confidential witnesses before the courts. Rather than blanket restrictions, there should be a detailed analysis of the context and, particularly, whether the journalists have acted in good faith, in accordance with the ethics of the profession, and in the goal of informing the public on matters of general interest.
- Undermining public confidence: Rather than undermining public confidence in the Tribunal, by reporting on courts’ proceedings, the media actually contributes to publicizing the operation of the judiciary, thereby reinforcing the trust of the public in judicial institutions. On the other hand, unnecessary or disproportionate restrictions on public scrutiny of criminal proceedings are more likely to diminish public confidence in the outcome of those proceedings.
- Chilling effect: Imposing criminal sanctions on journalists and media organisations for reporting on matters of public interest will almost inevitably have a chilling effect on freedom of expression. The Tribunal should consider the effect that sanctions organisations could have on the free flow of journalistic information.
ARTICLE 19 is also concerned that Lebanese media organisations may have been singled out for prosecution. German and Canadian media organisations have also revealed sensitive information leaked by the court in their reports, but only Lebanese media organisations have been indicted by the court.