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Al Wasat: “Regulating or suppressing Arab satellite broadcasting?”

Mideast Wire

Mansour Al-Jamri, editor in chief of the independent newspaper Al-Wasat, wrote on February 19: “The document of principles for regulating radio and television satellite broadcasting in the Arab world, which was ratified by the Arab media ministers in their emergency meeting in Cairo on the 12th of February cannot be considered a “bold step towards supporting the Arab media industry” as an official statement reported. Nor can it be considered a tool for “advancing” the content of the Arab media “through implementing a code of honour that balances between the values of freedom and responsibility, which would protect the Arab community from the negative effects of some of the programs of Arab satellite channels that go against the values, traditions and norms that govern the Arab and Islamic communities.”

“Yes, we do need to prevent the channels which promote heresy, pornography, and terrorism from operating, but this is not the primary goal behind the “Arab codes of honour” which fear freedom of speech and expression more than they fear heretics and their like. We salute any state that refused to sign this document because it would return us to obsolete ages that were long bypassed by the world. According to the official communiqués, the first section of the third chapter of the document stipulates “commitment to freedom of expression as one of the main foundations of Arab media work but this freedom should be used consciously and responsibly in order to protect the higher interests of the Arab countries and the Arab world and to respect the freedom of others and their rights as well as the values of the media industry”.

“This statement reminds us of most of the constitutions of the Arab countries which are not oppressive or bad in their sections if the restraints applied by the regimes are disregarded. Each and every constitutional section ends with a restraint that inhibits public freedoms and liberties. While a constitutional article would point out that freedom is guaranteed “by law”, a law would be appended to it that inhibits freedom so the freedoms allowed under the constitution all end up “legally banned”. This is the same situation with the document aimed at regulating satellite broadcasting, as this document stresses freedom but under the minor condition that it is up to the officials and regimes in the Arab countries to decide that the contents “are not detrimental to the higher interests”.

“This means that, among many other issues, there will be no more interviews with any opposition figures in any Arab country because the broadcasting is now subject to censorship and the offices of any channel are now threatened with closure. This document is trying to provide a legal cover for banning the Arabs from keeping up with the times, but maybe this effort will prove to be futile. If it turns out to be possible to ban a satellite network here or there, the number of networks broadcasting from outside the Arab world is increasing. Soon we will witness the BBC launching an Arab channel, which will join Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya. This new channel will be able to cover whatever it wants without any restraints imposed on the Arab media industry.

“We call on Arab countries to learn from the experiences of others. The closet place from which we could learn may be Turkey so we call on the regimes of the Arab countries to send delegates there so that maybe they could learn what real media is like, so that they might open their eyes and realize that their future lies with allowing their peoples more freedom instead of imposing more restraints on them.” - Al-Wasat, Bahrain



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