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Arab League’s proposed satellite broadcasting regulations would impede needed criticism of corruption and repression, warn 34 organisations

 Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRinfo), Cairo


**Updates IFEX alerts of 20 and 13 February 2008**

(HRinfo/IFEX) - The following is a 5 March 2008 joint statement by HRinfo,
the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), the Cairo Institute for Human
Rights Studies (CIHRS) and 31 other organisations:

34 International and Arabian Human Rights Organisations declare: The
document of organizing space transmission is invalid through its form and
content

The undersigned human rights organisations confirm their total rejection of
the document "Principles regulating Radio and Satellite TV Transmission and
Receiving in the Arab Region", adopted by Arab ministers of information on
12 February 2008. Human rights organisations said that the document, which
contains 12 articles, is full of ambiguous statements that would impose new
restrictions on freedom of expression on the Arab satellite channels and is
invalid without the affirmation of the Arab countries' parliaments.

Despite the document's first claim that it aims to "organize broadcasting
and re-broadcasting, as well as receiving broadcasts in the Arab region,
pay respect to freedom of expression, spread culture, and invigorate the
culture through satellite transmission," we find that some articles contain
statements that correspond to the same laws targeting critics of Arab
governments, such as the statement referring to "the negative impact upon
social peace, national unity, public order and politeness, protecting the
higher interests of Arab countries and respecting the principle of national
sovereignty of each country over its own land."

Human rights organisations who advocate for freedom of expression stated
that "the document's articles aim in the first place to restrict
documentary and public affairs programmes promoting dialogue which
highlight and expose repressive acts and cases of corruption, widespread in
the Arab world, by governments that have come to power in non-democratic
ways, often against the wishes of their communities.

This document proposes restrictions that are open to interpretation, such
as the requirement to "not discredit national leaders and religious
figures." The document neither defines the distinction between criticism
and "discrediting", nor clarifies clearly the standards for determining
those figures. This consequently would result in targeting serious media
programme makers and opening the door for governments to practice control
and repression of freedom of expression, which violates the rights
enshrined in international covenants and charters.

The document obliges television and broadcasting transmission corporations
to subject their programme contents to a committee in charge of censorship,
which would impose the scheduling of programmes, and intervene to protect
children from inappropriate media materials. This would allow the
censorship authority to interfere with the content of programmes that
governments do not like.

The undersigned human rights organisations are convinced that articles in
the document infringe on freedom of publication and broadcasting, which are
aspects of freedom of expression.

Additionally, we find that the ministers ignored the legitimate process by
which any document or agreement can be made mandatory: by first obtaining
the consent of parliaments and legislative bodies, as stipulated in the
countries' respective constitutions regarding any international agreement.

The governmental claim that it is just "a document of principles" is a
denial of the possibility that governments will take legal action against
any satellite channel that exercises its right to broadcast news and
information in an independent manner.

This contradicts what is included in the document, which would impose
certain punishments which could result in confiscation of the (. . .)
equipment and cancellation of the licences of satellite channels opposing
the governments' perspectives. This of course violates the legal principle
of "no punishment without a court ruling."

Regarding this issue, the undersigned human rights organisations declare
they will take the lead in supporting the broadly-based movement rejecting
this document, acknowledging the right of media corporations to do their
work with no restrictions or censorship and standing by the citizens' right
to have serious programmes that reveal corruption and unmask the violations
of their rights that citizens suffer from on a daily basis.

Signed,

- The Arabic network for human rights information (HRinfo), Egypt
- Arab Program for Human Rights Activists, Egypt
- Palestinian Human Rights Foundation (Monitor), Lebanon
- Egyptian Association for the Support of the Democratic Development, Egypt
- Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement, Egypt
- Egyptian Association for Economic & Social Rights, Egypt
Social Democratic Party, Egypt
- The Coordinating Committee for the Trade Union and Worker Rights &
Liberties, Egypt
- Syrian Human Rights Committee, Syria
- The Egyptian Observatory for Justice & Law, Egypt
- The Egyptian Center for Housing Rights, Egypt
- National Center for Human Rights, Egypt
- Egyptian Democratic Institute, Egypt
- Arabic Foundation for Support of Civil Society & Human Rights, Egypt
- National Organisation for Defending Rights and Freedoms, Yemen
- Developing Democracy Group, Egypt
- Bahraini Human Rights Society, Bahrain
- Egyptian Awn human rights association, Egypt
- Human Rights First Saudi, Saudi Arabia
- Bahrain youth society for human rights, Bahrain
- Justice Watch Association, Somalia
- The legal assistance of human rights group, Egypt
- The Land Center for Human Rights, Egypt
- Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Bahrain
- Freedom center for political rights and democracy support, Egypt
- Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Egypt
- Nadeem Center for Psychological Therapy and Rehabilitation of the Victims
of Violence, Egypt
- Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies, Egypt
- Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies, Syria
- Habi Center for Environmental Rights, Egypt
- Maat for juridical & Constitutional Studies, Egypt
- Hisham Mubarak law center, Egypt
- Forum for Development & Human Rights Dialogue, Egypt
- Association for Freedom of Thought & Expression, Egypt

For further information contact Gamal Eid, Executive Director, HRinfo,
Apartment 10, No. 5, Street 105, from Midan al Hurriya, al Maadi, Cairo,
Egypt, tel/fax: +202 524 9544, e-mail: info@hrinfo.net,
gamal4eid@yahoo.com, Internet: http://www.hrinfo.net/en

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