I was thrilled to read in Al-Waqt in the weekend that the new minister of information, Jehad buKamal, affirmed that the new new Press & Publications Law will not stipulate any prison sentences against journalists [translate], except for denigrating God or the king.
The exception is accepted – for now – as otherwise the law will never get through this parliament. I will be really surprised if a brightspark or two of our esteemed members of parliament don’t stand against such a law and counter it by demanding that every single journalist or writer should be assumed guilty first and not only should they be imprisoned for their troubles, but also levy some public lashings against them too. Oh hang on, this actually had been suggested in the past, so let’s see how far they go this time!
The new minister has been a breath of fresh air at that ministry in particular and the government in general. So far, he has released some books which his ministry’s censorship office has withheld from publication or summarily banned for reasons they know best, has come out publicly against the imprisonment of journalists (and hopefully all opinion writers as guaranteed by our constitution anyway) and has lately commission none other than Al-Jazeera – which has so far been banned from reporting from Bahrain – to mount an investigative journalism course for several journalists and media personnel.
buKamal should certainly be encouraged and his steps fully supported.
This country has been quite haphazard in its information policies since the late Al-Moayed was relieved of his duties. Although much disliked for his strictness, he certainly was the one who dragged the ministry by the scruff of the neck and forced to work in a modern way. The staff at the ministry still remember him with fondness to this day! Whenever I speak to any of them about “the old days” you can see the dreamy look come across their faces as they speak of Tariq Al-Moayed. Like a strict headmaster, he was feared to be sure, but much loved too!
All those who have come after him were probably politically driven with a specific agenda which they believed was their duty to execute. However, the world instantly saw through their “valiant” PR efforts and labeled the ministry of information as nothing more than a government mouth-piece given exclusively to propaganda.
I know that buKamal has only been at the helm for a few months, but his actions so far bodes well. I just hope that what we see from him now is not another new manager honeymoon, soon to be replaced with the tried and tested “nodding dog” and “Yes” men syndromes which will invariably lead to the old ways.
I personally don’t think this will happen in buKamal’s case. He was an elected MP in the first parliament, then assigned by the king into the unelected Shura Council for the 2nd parliamentary term before being given this ministerial position. He also comes from a known merchant family and is a businessman of repute. All of these factors should undoubtedly help him turn this ministry around. Hopefully he will also be instrumental in closing it down altogether and delegate its traditional roles to the private sector by opening up the horizons for private media ownership.