Before the civil war, Beirut was an international communications center with an earth satellite station and two oceanic cables linking it to Marseille and Alexandria. As of 1999, the rebuilding of Lebanon's telecommunications system was well under way. Government-controlled Radio Lebanon broadcasts in Arabic, and Tele-Liban broadcasts on three channels in Arabic, French, and English. Some 700,000 mainline telephones were estimated to be in use as of 1999, with an additional 580,000 cellular phones in use as well.
In 2001 there were 36 radio stations and 7 television stations. The government owns one radio and one television station and the rest are privately owned. In 2000, there were 687 radios and 335 television sets for every 1,000 people. In 2001, there were 300,000 Internet subscribers served by 22 service providers.
Historically, Lebanon has had the freest press in the Arab world. Even during the civil war some 25 newspapers and magazines were published without restriction. Newspapers freely criticize the government but refrain from criticizing political groups that have the power to retaliate forcibly. As of 2002, the largest Arabic dailies included An-Nahar ( The Day , 77,600), Al-Anwar ( Lights , 58,675), As-Safir ( The Ambassador , 50,000), Al-Amal ( Hope , circulation 35,000), Al Hayat ( Life , 31,030), Al-Sharq (36,000), and Al-Liwa ( The Standard , 15,000). Also influential are the French-language papers L'Orient–Le Jour (23,000), Le Soir (16,500), and Le Réveil (10,000).
Though the constitution provides for freedom of the press, the government uses several means short of censorship to control freedom of expression. The Surete Generale is authorized to approve all foreign materials, including magazines, plays, books, and films. The law prohibits attacks on the dignity of the head of state or foreign leaders, prosecuting through a special Publications Court. A 1991 security agreement between Lebanon and Syria effectively prohibits the publication of any material deemed harmful to either state.