H.E Hugo Shorter British Ambassador in Lebanon and the British Embassy Communications Team held a reception for the Media at the Ambassador’s Residence in Yarze on Thursday 11th of May 2017 after the Press Freedom Day last week.
It was a special occasion for Media Professionals, Journalists, TV Anchors and Bloggers to connect and exchange interesting insights about the opportunities and challenges of their profession as well their role in society as well as the UK’s major role, standing shoulder to shoulder with Lebanon in the fields of Security, Stability, Education, Economy, Tech and much more to achieve a prosperous society.
H.E Shorter then addressed his distinguished guests with his speech:
« Ahlan wa Sahlan,
Last week you celebrated press freedom day. Nowhere in the Middle East is the press as renowned and admired as the Lebanese press. And at the same time, no one can deny how relevant the issue of press freedom remains here. I am constantly reminded of this fact living in this house once owned by the renowned journalist Selim El Lawzi.
It has been a tough year for media outlets in Lebanon. It’s been sad to see some close down like ‘Assafir’ after 42 years of service and others restructuring to meet the rapid digital growth, or to meet financial obligations. In the UK we saw how The Independent was the first national newspaper to move to an entirely quality online website in Feb 2016. Some of you in this room have already established their online news service and we are glad that you too are living up to the challenge.
The reason, I think, that freedom of the press comes so frequently under attack is because the press, when it works the way it should, provides people–voters–with information they did not already know or a point of view maybe they hadn’t thought of. And that is a key function of a healthy democracy, both before, during, and after elections.
As I’ve mentioned them, I will note again: Parliamentary electoral deadlines are looming. It is now  days until parliament’s mandate ends. As ever, we are urging a clear timeline to hold elections as early as possible, but we are avoiding getting drawn into what any electoral law should look like, which is a matter for the Lebanese.
The one aspect of the electoral law I am not neutral on is a women’s quota. Lebanon has only 3% of women MPs (Saudi has 20%, Tunisia 50%). This undermines Lebanon’s democratic credentials and denies half the population their basic political rights, representing a huge waste of talent in a political system that needs all the talent available. I ‘m not usually a fan of quotas but here the case for a temporary one seems overwhelming. As the British embassy, we are running some innovative and successful projects to support getting more Lebanese women into politics – quota or no quota. And I’m very grateful to those of you in the room who are hosting women on your shows, or writing about them in your columns. The media has a crucial role to play in this issue.
Speaking of media stories, many of you will be following the story of Brexit. I just want to say right now that while we are leaving the EU, we are not leaving Europe and we will certainly not be reducing our role on the world stage. The UK will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with Lebanon for security, stability and prosperity.
After a year and a half as Ambassador for the United Kingdom to Lebanon I am very proud of the work we, all of you have done. We are by Lebanon’s side with actions and not just words. The booklet between your hands summarises the totality of our work thanks to our many partners and to the Lebanese up and down the country.
Lebanon is full of unsung heroes who are protecting its borders and fighting terrorists; growing their businesses in a challenging economic environment; stretching their family budgets to give their children the best possible start in life; or working flat out – in schools, hospitals and NGOs – to educate, treat and support vulnerable Lebanese and Syrians alike. I have also marvelled at the energy, creativity and dynamism of Lebanon’s youth and entrepreneurs.
Finally, thank you for coming this evening. The fact that we are exchanging views, talking and listening to one another builds objectivity and trust for a long-lasting relationship. As the eyes, ears and voice of the public you continue to strive to make your country proud.
As ever the Comms team – Nicola, Michelle and Abir – are available 24hrs so please do call them for any information or clarifications you require. Don’t hesitate to check with them on any story relating to the UK – and things we might, or might not, be doing.
Here’s a toast to you and to working together ».