Web law ‘threat to Arab media’
By REBECCA TORR
A NEW law to control websites and radio broadcasting in the region has been attacked by Bahrain human rights organisations under a regional campaign. Thirty-four groups, including three from Bahrain, have rejected the law stating that it is against human rights because it imposes restrictions on freedom of expression.
They add that the law is not even legitimate because it has not received the approval of parliament and legislative authorities.
The new law was signed by Information Ministers of Arab countries, including Bahrain, on February 12.
It contains 12 articles that aim to organise, broadcasting and re-broadcasting, and receive broadcasts in the Arab region.
Its goal is to pay respect to freedom of expression and spread culture through space transmission.
But human rights groups say the law is actually against freedom of expression and its main aim is to silence opponents of Arab governments who criticise their policies.
One of the organisations is the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, which is calling on the government to reject the law.
“This is not good for the Arab region. It will control media and the media must have the freedom to talk and not be controlled by the Arab governments,” society president Mohammed Al Maskati told the GDN.
“With this law, they will control all media websites, government and individual newspapers and TV. People can’t register any TV channel if the government doesn’t want it.
“The law was rejected by Qatar and Lebanon because they have many independent TV channels.”
Next month the society will launch a campaign against the new law and hold a workshop to discuss the issue.
“They [Arab governments] want to control the media in the Arab region because some of them attack presidents of these countries,” he said.
“They should be allowed to talk since it is their right and we should be allowed to know what’s happening in politics.”
The 34 human rights groups say the law aims to restrict documentary and dialogue programmes, which highlight and expose repressive exercises and corruption cases in the Arab world.
The law states that there should be control over media that discredit national leaders and religious icons.
But according to the human rights groups, the document doesn’t define the borderlines between criticism and discrediting and neither does it clarify the standards to determine such icons.
The organisations say having such a law would open the door for governments to practice control and repression against freedom of expression and this violates the rights stated by international constitutions and charters.
The law obliges television and broadcasting transmission corporations to subject their programme contents to a committee in charge of censorship, to impose a timetable for the programmes and protect children from inappropriate subjects.
The human rights organisations say this would allow the censorship authority to interfere into the content of programmes transmitted that governments don’t like.
“The governmental claim that it is just ‘a document of principles’ as a justification, denies the possibility of taking any legal procedures against any space channel which practices their right to broadcast news and information in a way that corresponds to their own strategy,” say the organisations.
“This contradicts with what is included in the document imposing certain punishments which could result in confiscating sets and equipment and license seizure of channels – opposing governments perspectives.
“This, of course, violates the legal rule of ‘no punishment without a legal act’.”