Retooling the press law

5 May, '08

The Bahraini Press and Publications Law number 47 of 2002 has been contentious since the day it was promulgated. It has gone through a couple of revisions, one of them unwritten when the prime minister ordered a freeze on journalists’ imprisonment, but it fell far short from what journalists and writers were striving for.

The Shura Council put in an alternative law which has been lauded by many that it is the law under which journalists and opinion writers would be comfortable working under as it is fairer and removed the very damaging link between it – the press law – and the Penal Code, and removed all possibilities of the journalists sent to jail due to their writings.

The king spoke against the current Press and Publications law twice, once when he was inaugurating the parliamentary term and the other time more directly on the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day a couple of days ago. With this level of political pressure, it was no surprise that wheels were put immediately into motion; but what motion it is!

In its weekly session held yesterday, the Cabinet declared that no journalist or writer is to be imprisoned for publishing their opinions. Wonderful! But even though I did not personally read the proposed amendments they sent to Parliament for discussion and ratification, I do not see any mention of the untying of the Press and Publications law and the Penal Code. In fact, what I do see is that this is the exact same thwarting law, but in a different guise:

The amendment seeks to shield those who exercise their right to freedom of expression from punishment as long as they preserve the political system’s privacy and fundamentals, the Kingdoms heritage and general decency.Bahrain Tribune

Sorry? What does that bit about the as long as mean? To me – and I might be completely mistaken here – it means that nothing has changed, and nothing will change. And when you consider that on the very same day the cabinet sent its “amended” Law to the Parliament, the Shura Council finally sent its version – which is arguably much better than the Cabinet’s efforts – to Parliament too. The Parliamentary by-laws are quite clear, they give precedence to government initiated laws – thereby – negating or at least infinitely delaying the Shura Council’s efforts ever coming to light.

So my advice to you guys is to not to start jumping up and down in happiness at this new development by the Cabinet. The “gotchas” in it are actually much more severe than even the older iteration.

It makes me really wonder – once again – if the government, represented by the Cabinet, is doing its damnest to thwart the wishes of the king of the land, on purpose!

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Comments (6)

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  1. Capt. Arab says:

    I have a question Mahmood, which after reading your blog has baffled me further.
    What liberties are expected in journalism? If the “as long as” did not exist, whether in it’s exact context or expressed differently. Don’t you think that we will end up with people slagging off others, libel suits, deframation, and last but not least crossing the journalism boundries with writings about Allah and the Holy Prophets which will ultimately lead to further secterian issues (which we all know is there). So I don’t quite understand your point, nor the funn or fuss about this new law.
    One last thing… Who and How will offenders be held accountable for their so-called “freedoms of expression”?
    I mean can I start a blog and just dedicate my life to writing about you, true or false or assumptious, who is there is define that fine line. On the other hand, what “peace of mind” do you have that whatever I write or express, is that exact image of you, and not fabricated to ruin you. Or is it considered as my freedom of expression?
    I wish you would enlighten me…

  2. mahmood says:

    got to run to a meeting, so briefly, if it does not promote hatred, condone and espouse violence, it should be allowed.

    citizens and others have the full right to take a journalist or a writer to court for libel or defamation, and it’s the court’s prerogative to assign penalties to the writer if deemed he or she has in fact defamed the other party purposefully without levying prison sentences.

    As to criticising religion, it should most definitely be allowed. If a religion is strong, it (or its adherents) should not be afraid of criticism. In fact, criticising it could very much lead to better understanding and more faith.

  3. Capt. Arab says:

    Thanks Mahmood, and Yes I totally agree with you. But can you get compensated for damage already done, plus when you mention strong religions and criticism you wil find a few headless chickens babling about religion without even knowing their facts..
    Thanks for the enlightenment all the same..
    🙂

  4. mahmood says:

    There is something about the Internet and how it ensures that only the good ideas and sound logic ultimately prevails, and that is all attributed to “peer review”. You will see that if those “few headless chickens” do cackle, they are more than welcomed and engaged to put substance to their arguments, if they can’t, or if those arguments leak, you will find that they will ultimately be completely ignored and they will disappear in the netherworld of the Internet.

    So I wouldn’t really be too concerned about people babbling, let them babble all they want, but I guarantee you that if their logic does not hold water, they will babble only to themselves.

  5. mahmood says:

    Looks like these “amendments” are actually far worse than what we currently have according to my sources! There appears to be deliberate gaps through which a freight train can trundle through, leading to clear “elevation” of these transgressions directly to the Penal Code – even though it is not specifically mentioned – and that all journalistic trespass now automatically leads to the Criminal court rather than the much anticipated Civil one.

    So, it looks like these amendments, much as I suspected, are designed to derail – or at least delay – the Shura Council-sourced ones yet again.

    The tug of war, this time publicly between HM The King and the Cabinet continues. At least this is how I personally read the events so far.

  6. cvt says:

    “It makes me really wonder – once again – if the government, represented by the Cabinet, is doing its damnest to thwart the wishes of the king of the land, on purpose!”

    or could it simply be good cop-bad cop?

    btw,you’re not a citizen, you’re a subject.

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