Global Freedom of Expression

Murr Television v. Republic of Lebanon

Closed Expands Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Audio / Visual Broadcasting
  • Date of Decision
    October 10, 2020
  • Outcome
    Motion Granted
  • Case Number
  • Region & Country
    Lebanon, Middle East and North Africa
  • Judicial Body
    First Instance Court
  • Type of Law
    Administrative Law
  • Themes
    Access to Public Information, Content Regulation / Censorship, Licensing / Media Regulation
  • Tags

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

On October 14, 2020, the Judge for Urgent Matters in Beirut ordered the General Directorate of the Presidency of the Republic of Lebanon to reverse its decision to ban the local network television MTV from entering the premises of the presidential palace and allow it to access the areas designated for the media, like all other media institutions. The Presidency Directorate imposed this ban on the channel due to its continuous disrespect and attacks towards the President, stating that the ban would only be lifted after the channel reconsidered its offensive approach towards the President. The Court held that the ban went beyond the Presidency Directorate’s scope of authority and represented a form of prior censorship, which infringed upon press freedom. The Court also emphasised that the ban violated the applicant’s rights to access information and freedom of expression protected under Article 13 of the Lebanese Constitution.


On August 31, 2020, the correspondence team of the local television network in Beirut, MTV, was banned from entering the presidential palace in virtue of a decision of the Presidency Directorate to cover the parliamentary consultations to nominate a new prime minister. Afterwards, the Presidency Directorate released a statement that it had barred the correspondents of MTV from covering a number of events in the presidential palace on the grounds of its disrespect for the position of the President of the Republic and merely mentioning his name without his title, as well as the repeated attacks on him. The Presidency Directorate also stated that he exerted the utmost efforts to oblige the channel to change its aggressive stance towards the President without success.

On another occasion, the MTV team was banned again from gaining access to the presidential palace premises to cover the visit of the French president. Consequently, MTV filed a lawsuit before the Court for Urgent Matters in Beirut, requesting a decision that obliges the Presidency Directorate to reverse the barring decision imposed against the channel. MTV (Plaintiff) contended that this unjustifiable, discriminatory decision issued by the Presidency Directorate (Respondent) violated the channel’s rights to freedom of press and freedom of expression under national and international law.

Decision Overview

A single-judge bench, presided over by Carla Shawah, Judge for Urgent Matters in Beirut, delivered the decision.

The central issue before the Court was to determine whether the decision taken by the Respondent had infringed on the Plaintiff’s right to freedom of expression by banning its correspondents from entering the presidential palace to cover the affairs of the State.

The Plaintiff, on the one hand, argued that the banning decision encroached on its protected rights as a press outlet under the Lebanese Constitution and international instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights  (“UDHR”), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights  (“ICCPR”), the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”) and the Arab Charter on Human Rights (“ACHR”). MTV further argued that the decision contradicts Lebanon’s Access to Information Law and Whistleblower Protection Law.

On the other hand, the Respondent supported their ban decision on the grounds of its duty to preserve the dignity of the presidency and the President of the Republic, stressing that this measure was less than normal despite the channel’s repeated insults and humiliation of the President. The Respondent further contended that the Presidency’s headquarters and the President’s residence enjoy privacy in terms of organisational, security, and protocol procedures. The Respondent argued that no individual or entity may modify the rules of entry to it under the ambit of media freedom of expression. The Respondents further critiqued the Plaintiff’s reference to international and comparative law jurisprudence in its claim.

The Court referred to the doctrine of “voie de fait”, the interpretation of which is “assault” or “trespass”. The “voie de fait” doctrine allows the judiciary to intervene to stop the administration’s flagrant infringement on property rights and public liberties. The infringement of the administration is realised in cases where its actions involve a serious defect or an apparent violation, to the extent that it is impossible to say that it is considered an application of a general law, or the exercise of a jurisdiction proper to the administration. By committing the infringement, the administration has placed itself outside the scope of public law and has lost the privileges prescribed for the public authority, including the privilege of litigation before the administrative court (i.e., the State Consultative Council).

The Court first addressed the question of whether the ban issued by the Presidency falls under the legal authority entrusted to it. The Court observed that the Respondent’s banning decision exceeded its power and does not fall within its legal authority. The Court reasoned that the Respondent’s authority is only entrusted with regulating entry times and dates to the palace and the areas that may be accessible to the media. The Court noted that the Respondent did not have any legal authority to prevent a media outlet from entering the presidential palace. The Court further noted that the Respondent’s decision did not meet the public interest requirement, considering that the Respondent allowed all other media outlets to cover these events and prevented only the Plaintiff. The Court observed that the Respondent’s decision was made to fulfill the President’s special interest, i.e., to suppress any dissent against him. The Court defined the term “vernacular” and noted that the Respondent’s decision was wrong and unjustified as if it was a reprisal against the Plaintiff.

The Court emphasised that not only did the Respondent exceed its power, but also implicitly violated the separation of powers principles, i.e., the Respondent used its powers and authority for a purpose foreign to regulating entry to the presidential palace. The Court noted that notwithstanding the prior pressure imposed on the Plaintiff by the Respondent to change its media stance towards the President, the Respondent went beyond its authority by grounding its decision on the unwillingness of the Plaintiff to change its critical approach towards the President of the Republic. The Court observed that this pressure on any news outlet asking to be compatible with what the administration deems appropriate without any legal basis fundamentally undermines freedom of the press and media.

Secondly, the Court examined whether the Respondent’s decision violates the fundamental right to freedom of expression enshrined in the Lebanon Constitution in light of international law, specifically the UDHR, ICCPR, ECHR, and ACHR. The Court noted that media freedom and access to information are interconnected and elaborated that the Respondent’s decision to ban the Plaintiff’s correspondents violated freedom of expression because it prevented the public from accessing information, a condition without which media freedom cannot properly function. The Court also emphasised that freedom of expression has two aspects: the collection of information and the outlet’s freedom to use it.

Furthermore, the Court held that the presidential palace is not the private property of the administration but a public facility that provides a public service. Therefore, the Court rejected the Respondent’s contention that the presidential palace is distinguished by its security, protocol, and organisational privacy.

The Court finally stated that the Respondent’s banning decision also violated the fundamental right to equality of the Plaintiff, which is a foundational pillar of democratic systems. This is because the Respondent only prevented the Plaintiff’s correspondents from accessing the presidential palace without due cause while allowing other media outlets to do so.

In conclusion, the Court directed the Respondent to reverse the ban on the Plaintiff’s correspondents and immediately allow them to enter the premises allocated to all media outlets to cover State affairs. Additionally, the Court imposed a fine of LBP 3 million ($1,990) for anyone who acts in violation of this ruling.

Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Expands Expression

The recent decision has expanded freedom of expression and the scope of the “voie de fait” doctrine, which empowers the judiciary to quash violations of fundamental rights committed by public administration. While Lebanese courts have previously applied this theory in narrow instances, such as attacks on the public domain or cases of arbitrary detention, the broad interpretation of this doctrine in this case, particularly in regards to extending its application to the right to equality, will expand the margin of intervention of judges in this field to encompass any unwarranted violations committed by any state agency.

This decision demonstrates that cases involving public bodies do not have to be examined by administrative courts and it is possible to address administrative actions that infringe on public liberties or fundamental rights in a swift manner by bringing them before the Court for Urgent Matters. Second, it enables the judiciary to issue orders against public bodies as well as levy fines as a penalty, which is not the case with administrative courts, as they are legally unable to issue penalties against public bodies.

The decision also represents a symbolic and significant shift from the culture of courtesy to the culture of accountability. While the Presidency Directorate believed that it had the right to prevent any channel from entering the presidential palace for addressing the President of the Republic in a way deemed inappropriate and that no one could hold it accountable for such a decision. However, the ruling refuted that, underlining that the presidential directorate does not enjoy any special privilege or immunity and is accountable just like all other public bodies in line with the principle of separation of powers.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that this decision, along with another decision issued by the Court of Publications in Beirut, constitutes the second decision in less than a year, which ended in circumscribing the concept of the dignity of the Presidency of the Republic, in accordance with principles of democracy.

Global Perspective

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Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

Related International and/or regional laws

National standards, law or jurisprudence

Case Significance

Quick Info

Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

This case did not set a binding or persuasive precedent either within or outside its jurisdiction. The significance of this case is undetermined at this point in time.

Official Case Documents


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