Lebanon Threatens Lawsuit over Showtime Hit “Homeland.”
The hit television series “Homeland” may have found itself in the middle of an international legal brawl, say Lebanese officials. The Lebanese minister of tourism has expressed disapproval and vowed legal action against the four time Emmy award winning drama. “Homeland,” which stars Claire Danes as a CIA agent fighting terrorism at home and abroad, recently aired an episode depicting covert CIA operations against jihadists in the Middle Eastern country of Lebanon. Questions remain, however, whether the threatened legal action is possible. Furthermore, it is unclear whether the Lebanese grievances stem from the depiction of Lebanon as a jihadist state or Israel’s involvement as a filming location.
The Showtime television series “Homeland,” which recently began its sophomore season, has become a favorite of critics. Between ended the four year “best drama” streak for AMC juggernaut Mad Men and Barack Obama’s presidential seal of approval as his favorite show, “Homeland” has received near universal praise. But some people and government officials from Lebanon are describing the show as an unflattering and racist depiction of their own homeland. The tourism minister of Lebanon, Fadi Abboud, told Beirut-based Executive Magazine that his country demands apologies from the producer and director of the series and is planning a lawsuit against the show for falsely depicting the country as a third world war zone. Showtime and CBS parent company have declined to comment.
To put this into perspective, Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, is a metropolitan city with more than 2 million residents. Prior to the Lebanese Civil War, Beirut was considered the “Paris of the Middle East” with approximately 20% of its GDP derived from its booming tourism industry. In 2009, the New York Times called the city “the top place to visit,” and Lebanon, the most religiously diverse country in the Middle East, still receives much of its GDP from the millions of tourists who vacation there every year. In 2011 MasterCard revealed that visitor spending in Beirut alone totaled more the $6.5 billion. The streets of city are lined with museums, cafes, and bookstores. Yet the television series “Homeland” depicts Beirut as a partially developed city with terrorist sympathies, armed militias, and exploding car bombs. Given the overwhelming popularity of the show and the already negative attitude of U.S. citizens towards Middle Eastern tourism, it is not absurd to think that the fictional depiction could amount to the loss of real dollars.
Although the Lebanese information minister is currently analyzing media laws on the subject, it is unclear what, if any, legal recourse may be available for the misrepresented country. Although “Homeland” does not begin with any Law and Order type legal disclaimer, viewers are given little reason to believe that the show depicts real events or locations. Even if the series does cause actual damage to the Lebanese tourism industry, as long as the show does not portray itself as factual it is widely immune from accusations of libel and protected by the 1st Amendment. Although some courts may sympathize with the plight of the Lebanese tourism industry, allowing Lebanon to bring suit against the creators of “Homeland” would set a dangerous precedent. No doubt, Albuquerque would sue “Breaking Bad” for portraying the city as a methamphetamine hub, Louisiana would sue “True Blood” for showing the state as “soft on vampirism,” and Miami would sue “Dexter” for depicting the city as overrun with serial killers. Also, if legal action were possible, Lebanon would need to show that “Homeland” portrayed inaccurately portrayed the city. On October 19, 2012, the same day that the minister of tourism spoke out against “Homeland,” a car bomb exploded in the Lebanese capital, killing a government official and seven others.
Finally, some news organizations have suggested that the people of Lebanon may have different grievances with “Homeland” than those expressed by the tourism minister of Lebanon. Although the tourism industry could potentially be damaged by the Showtime series, when interviewed, the people of Lebanon seemed more upset by where the show was filmed than by how the show portrayed Lebanon. The series is primarily filmed in the U.S., but episodes that show the main characters fighting terrorism in Lebanon, are actually filmed in Israel. While this may seem rather harmless to U.S. viewers, to the people of Lebanon, who fought a war against Israel in 2006, were shelled by Israeli artillery as recently as 2010, and continue to be embroiled with Israel in a border disputes, substituting Tel Aviv for Beirut is offensive. Some Middle Eastern newspapers have even called the comparison racist in the eyes of the Muslim community. While the Lebanese government officials stress the effect on tourism, it seems that the country’s anger at the series may stem from a much deeper and longer conflict with their neighbor, Israel.