When I read this article in Al-Akhbar last Friday morning, about the World Press Photo (WPP) exhibition in Downtown Beirut, I said: Oh God, this is not going away easily. The article was about the Beirut exhibition organised by the respected Netherlands-based WPP, which featured many international award-winning photographers including: the Israeli Amit Sha’al.
The exhibition has run for 10 days before somebody noticed that some photos are taken by an Israeli photographer. The reaction was manifested by Al-Manar, Hezbollah TV channel, in its prime evening news calling the participation an ‘Israeli penetration’ in Lebanon. Even before that, the Lebanese General Security Directorate (GSD), which is in charge of censorship, ordered the removal of the photographs. WPP refused to obey to censorship, and prefered to take everything down instead; and that’s what happened, the whole exhibition was shut down by Friday afternoon, instead of Jun 1st!
The photographs were based on the ‘now and then’ in Palestine; he shot scenes around Israel now, with having an old photo in the same spot in the same frame. His photos were mostly taken for Jewish people in Palestine, apart from one photo which showed a Mosque, and a Palestinian standing in front of it. Some people argued that he was misrepresenting history, motivated by his political background. Whatever the argument, GSD has given Amit Sha’al a free advertisement.
The Al-Akhbar article said that GSD reviewed the photos ‘catalogue’ and approved it. GSD said later in a statement that this was not true. They haven’t reviewed it, and don’t want to – which is the right thing!
Lebanon and Israel are still in a ‘state of war’, and the Lebanese law bans any contact with an Israeli, or trading any Israeli products. I am not advocating we start ‘trading’ with Israel now, but don’t you want to see some photos, when you know they have been selected from 108,000 photos coming from 125 countries around the world?
If I take this incident out of its Israeli context, it got me to think about censorship in general in Lebanon; how we do it, why we do it, and who is the right entity for that.
With the age of real-time reporting, social media and internet, I am just amazed we still censor in Lebanon as a matter of principle. Our nanny state still assumes that we don’t know what’s right or wrong for us. Israel still massively censors though, but I don’t fancy their standards! This incident got me to dig up a list of ‘banned stuff’ in Lebanon, which has sat on my desktop for while. I got this from a ‘source’, although it might not be update.
I tell you, if you live outside Lebanon, you will probably have seen – without knowing – some banned films for ‘political’ reasons: Deja Vu, Independence Day, La Femme Nikita S1, Manchurian candidate, The pianist, Schindler’s list, West Wing S1 & S3, and some older productions like Manhattan (Woody Allen), Anything else (Woody Allen), Barbarella queen of the galaxy (Jane Fonda), bullet and Barfly. There are some others too which were banned for containing sexual or homosexual contents.
I am sure the GSD is covered by a certain piece of paper or legislation, but you just wonder how right now it is, to ban something without a court order, or any transparency in a legal appeal process.
If you are Lebanese reading this post, I am genuinely interested in hearing your comment on the whole thing. By the way, you can look the photos up easily, if you want!