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French Version

Lebanon's Parliament lifts ban on MTV station

Lebanon's Parliament passed a bill yesterday to re-open a local television station shut down three years ago during the era of Syrian tutelage. In a continued effort to wipe the country clean of lingering Syrian fingerprints, parliamentarians also voted to put an end to all legal action against former Energy Minister Shahe Barsoumian.

The former minister had been accused of fraud, but his case was put on hold for the past eight years. Following the parliamentary session, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said: "I believe the case had been adequately studied by the appropriate bodies and it is about time to stop harassing a former minister on groundless accusations."

"The legal arguments between some MPs concerning the legality of the Parliament decision concerning Murr TV do not change the fact that we all want to correct old mistakes," he added.

By amending Article 68 of the 2000 electoral law concerning media coverage of electoral campaigns, Parliament effectively re-opened the privately owned MTV television station (often referred to as Murr TV, after its owner former MP Gabriel Murr) that was closed down three years ago after prosecutors accused it of disrupting relations with Syria.

Murr said it was "a happy day" and that the station would open in the coming weeks or months.

In an interview with Voice of Lebanon radio, he said: "The Parliament decision to give MTV the right to resume broadcasting is a corrective measure in favor of the whole country."

He added that closing the station was a violation of "freedom of opinion" in the country by corrupt judges who fell in line with the political agenda of corrupt politicians.

The decision to shut down MTV was based on an alleged violation of an election law prohibiting propaganda during a fiercely contested by-election in Metn.

Prosecutors also accused the station of "disturbing Lebanon's ties with Syria, hurting the president's dignity, slandering security agencies and disturbing the peace in the country."

Critics at the time claimed the move was aimed at silencing opposition to Syria, then the main power broker in the country.

The bill to re-open MTV received the support of all the major blocs in Parliament, including that of Metn MP Michel Murr, who supported the bill after recently ending a long-standing

feud with his brother Gabriel, a feud that was a main cause of the station's closure.

But Baabda MP Edmond Naim expressed reservations regarding the decision, saying: "Parliament's decision to reopen MTV could be challenged by the Supreme Court because it contradicts a court's verdict."

But Batroun MP Butros Harb pointed to a similar recent decision to release Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, noting if the MTV decision was subject to challenge, so was Geagea's release, "which is not the case."

While Hizbullah's parliamentary bloc supported the MTV decision, which also re-opened its sister station Radio Mount Lebanon, it voiced reservations about the bill's anti-Syrian preamble.

The bloc's head, Mohammad Raad, said: "Although we voted in favor, we do not approve of the justifications laid in the law's preface."

Beirut MP Gebran Tueni said: "The decision was a step is the right direction to clear up all the wrong practices of the Syrian era."

He further urged Parliament to look into current attacks by the Syrian media against its Lebanese counterpart.

Speaker Nabih Berri responded to Tueni's comments, saying jokingly: "For the first time I praised your editorial that called for ending all media campaigns against Syria; don't let me regret my gesture."

In its second legislative session since being handed a mandate, 94 out of 128 MPs discussed the case against Barsoumian in a closed-door session, voting to drop all charges in a secret ballot.

The case against Barsoumian revolved, among other claims, around accusations leveled by an oil trading company in February 1999 that the then-minister sold crude oil reserves as oil derivatives for personal gain.

However, in December 2002 the presiding judge rejected the case and refereed it to the Higher Council for the Prosecution of Presidents and Ministers.

Reports said 56 MPs voted in favor of dropping all charges against the former minister, 27 abstained and 10 opposed the recommendation and demanded to prosecute Barsoumian. There was one annulled vote. Hizbullah MPs voted not as one bloc, but as individuals.

Beirut 17-08-2005
Adnan El-Ghoul
The Daily Star

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