January 16, 2018
Since its inception, the film industry has always stirred up controversy within countries. Whether for political reasons or moral ones, film censorship or review organizations uphold standards for the banning of controversial content. More specifically, censorship is a widespread phenomenon in Lebanon. Some films, especially within the last few years, have been explicitly prohibited from public screening, causing great controversy amongst the Lebanese population.
January 2018 – Steven Spielberg BANNED AGAIN
Days before its release, it has come to the attention of the Lebanese citizens that “The Post”, yet another of acclaimed Hollywood director Steven Spielberg’s movies, has been banned. Initially passing the government’s usual screening procedures, the Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel-Lebanon (CBSIL) has influenced the government to block the film due to Spielberg’s ties to Israel.
The Arab League’s Central Boycott Office blacklisted Spielberg due to his $1 million donation to Israel at the time of the 2006 conflict with Lebanon. Due to Lebanon’s official status of war with Israel and laws dating back to the early 1930s, any affiliation with Israel is explicitly prohibited and banned. As a result, a six-member committee from the Ministry of Economy relayed their concern to the General Security Agency, a mechanism of the Ministry of Interior. The message was consequently elevated within the Ministry of Interior, which makes the final decision.
Criteria for Censorship
Criteria for censorship in Lebanon are depicted in numerous laws, some of which date back to 1934. At times, these laws are vague to an extent that they are paradoxical: “they permit the censoring institution to censor something, while at the same time allowing it”.
Mainly, the categories under which this censorship criteria fall are: foreign political considerations, foreign relations with friendly countries, relations with enemy states, and material on religion or which contains religious content.
“What the censors aim for, according to one of the laws, is to preserve public order, morals, and ethics and to avoid sectarianism and hurting public sensitivities.”
Controversy Sparked Amongst the Lebanese
Not the first of its kind to be banned, Spielberg’s movie joins both Wonder Woman and the Justice League, which were also prohibited from being publicly screened in Lebanon earlier in 2017. Debate surrounding these bans has become contentious.
On the one hand, people firmly believe that the issue is not up for debate, claiming that “opposition to Israel is not a matter of opinion”. Their motivation is driven by the impulse to resist Israel and to oppose any normalization of relations with a country that is declared to be at war with Lebanon.
Whereas, on the other hand, local civil society organizations such as MARCH Lebanon – a Non-Government Organization (NGO) that advocates for freedom of expression – are speaking up against this practice of censorship and banning. Those who opposed the ban believe that government and religious authorities take advantage of the broadness of censorship laws to repress certain ideologies. Thus, though they are refusing the ban of Spielberg’s recent movie, they make clear that it is not from a pro-Israeli or anti-boycott standpoint, but rather a pro-freedom of expression one. MARCH Lebanon has even sparked controversy with a contentious Instagram post, creating debate amongst the Lebanese people as to whether they are in favor of the ban or not.
Overall, Lebanon’s censorship bureau is active and operating at full capacity. The controversy, however, remains whether the tactics and reasoning for banning actually serve the best interest of Lebanon.
As grassroots organizations and NGOs in Lebanon boycotted the banning of the film “The Post” by Steven Spielberg, the government has reversed its decision and the film will be released on January 18th in all cinemas in Lebanon. The initiative to reverse the governments’ decision is part of a larger scale movement by the Lebanese citizens to curb “unjust and inconsistent censorship of arts and culture in Lebanon which has been on the rise recently” (MARCH Lebanon).