MEMRI’s Report on Arab League Stifling of Press Freedom

On May 28, 2008, MEMRI published its report on the Arab League Satellite Broadcasting Charter, signed by Arab Information Ministers on February 12. The charter is an Orwellian attempt by Arab regimes to curb media criticism in the name of “social peace, national unity, and public order”, “inter-Arab solidarity or cooperation and integration among Arab countries”, and “Arab abilities and strengths, especially those that receive international recognition and acclaim”.

Satellite channels can lose their licenses if they fail to

“avoid all programming that disrespects God, the monotheistic religions, the prophets, religious sects, or the religious leaders of various groups”; “refrain from producing or broadcasting materials that include explicit images or manifestations of wanton or sexual [behavior]”;””refrain from programming that incites to terrorism or violence of any sort, while distinguishing between [terrorism and violence], on the one hand, and the right to resist occupation, on the other…”

MEMRI reports that Egypt and Saudi Arabia were the catalysts of the charter, and that they were especially targeting Qatari Al-Jazeera. Al-Jazeera criticized the charter in harsh terms:

Senior Arab media figures were especially harsh in their criticism of the charter. Al-Jazeera director-general Wadhah Khanfar said that it raised many concerns: “Professional ethics charters must [be formulated by] people in the profession, that is, by journalists and media institutions… Politicians and governments cannot set professional standards for the press. [This charter] impinges on freedom of speech…

“If a national or religious leader is slandered, it is a matter for the law, not for politicians or the government. If a leader feels that he has been assaulted by the media, we have a judicial system to deal with [the matter].” [15]

Al-Jazeera Cairo bureau chief Hussein ‘Abd Al-Ghani wrote in the Egyptian opposition daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm: “The charter… is a grave collective Arab assault on media freedom and on freedom of speech in general. It is the most blatant evidence of the Arab regimes’ general tendency to close off, one by one, the areas of freedom, after the brief ‘Prague Spring’ experienced by the Arab world in 2004-2005…”

Al-Ghani called Article 5 of the charter, which enjoins the satellite channels to respect the sovereignty of the Arab countries, “carte blanche to invent draconian laws restricting the freedom of the press, especially since the charter does not constrain its restrictions by stating that they must comply with international charters of human rights, freedom of the press, and freedom of expression, or with internationally accepted free press standards…”

He said of the article prohibiting incitement to violence and terrorism: “Who [can] say [what counts as ‘violence and terrorism’], especially when there is no internationally agreed-upon definition of [the word] ‘terrorism’? For example, some think that resisting occupation, as Hamas and Hizbullah are doing, is terrorism…”

On the article calling to preserve Arab solidarity, ‘Abd Al-Ghani remarked: “What Arab solidarity? Is there such a thing? If [we] discuss the conflict between Morocco and Algeria, for example, does that undermine Arab solidarity? Or the conflicts between Syria and Lebanon, Syria and Saudi Arabia, or Syria and Qatar?…”

Qatar and Lebanon were the only countries to oppose the charter.

For all of their ethical flaws and failures to live up to (ostensible) Western standards, independent Arab media have played an important role in criticizing the closed regimes in the Arab world, and have occasionally inspired Arabs by underscoring the importance of basic liberties in a decent society. They leave much to be desired in the way of a free and critical press, like the Israeli, but there is no chance they will ever reach that point if Arab governments are able to rein them in now.

One Response to MEMRI’s Report on Arab League Stifling of Press Freedom

  1. oao says:

    if at least what’s left of the civilized world would realize what is being imposed on them and who they are dealing with, then this would have served some alerting/warning purpose. but there will be nothing of the kind, and the west accepts this and imposes it on itself too.

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