Telecoms Ministry unveils phone discounts for journalists [Daily Star, The (Lebanon)]
(Daily Star, The (Lebanon) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) BEIRUT: The Telecoms Ministry announced Thursday a new discounted phone package exclusively for journalists, offering members of media unions 50 percent off phone services from mtc touch.
The brief news conference at the Phoenicia Hotel was disrupted slightly when head of the Press Federation refused to sign the agreement due to disagreements over particular clauses in the document.
A representative from mtc touch told The Daily Star that implementation of the new discount package for media members would be delayed briefly but would go into effect soon.
Telecoms Minister Nicolas Sehnaoui said he was co-signing the deal in "the name of the Lebanese people's support of the press and freedom of expression."
Lebanon's telephone rates are some of the most expensive in the world. Despite recent upgrades to the network to offer new services, such as a 3G data plan, basic rates are higher than the rest of the world and prohibitively expensive for many people.
The special journalists plan would offer 800 minutes of talk time and 80 text messages for $49 a month.
Members at the news conference did not comment on the ethical concerns raised by the press receiving special privileges from the government.
Sehnaoui said he implemented the measure because he believed journalists deserved a special compensation for the service they provided to the country.
"Because they risk their lives, because they work relentlessly, and because they are the expression of the unique characteristic that still exists in Lebanon which is free speech and free press," Sehnaoui said.
The country was recently ranked in the bottom half of Reporters Without Borders' Press Freedom Rankings, placing 101 out of 179 countries surveyed. The country's press is heavily partisan and almost entirely backed by political patrons. Press freedom in Lebanon does rank well when compared to Middle Eastern monarchies.
Despite political backing, financial difficulties plague many of the newspapers and television stations in the country. There have been large layoffs at some outlets and organizational consolidations at others. Low pay and delayed payments are the norm. Sehnaoui said his ministry would be working to offer journalists other exclusive services soon.
When asked about why journalists should get preferential services over other occupations, Sehnaoui said many other jobs that need to use the phone have benefits that cover the cost, while journalists don't.
Once the plan is implemented for the Journalists Union and Press Federation, the discounted plan is expected to be expanded to many of the country's other media syndicates, which would include photographers and audiovisual journalists.
"Communication is becoming their main working tool overall," Sehnaoui said. "We are working to offer a comprehensive service for the press corps from the photographer to the editor."
Head of the Press Syndicate, Mohammad Baalbaki, praised the initiative as strengthening the relationship between the state and the press.
"It is very important for mtc touch to help Lebanese journalists," he said.
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