Tag Archives press-law

Sorry your Majesty, I wish it worked like that…ٍ

Posted on

Bahraini journalist Sawsan Al-Sha'er in an audience with the king of BahrainTime and again we are privileged to hear that our king, his majesty Shaikh Hamad bin Esa Al-Khalifa, is fully committed to see his vision realised in the reforms he initiated since he gained the throne. Time and again he unequivocally came out and said that he is for the freedoms of expression and he is for the improvement of the Bahraini people’s lives. At those times we get some articles praising his stance and positions in the national press; but only for those to be forgotten rather quickly and the same brain-dead heavy handed censorship re-applied, as if nothing has happened.

We are in one of those “reminder” periods once again…

A few weeks ago renowned Bahraini writer and “The Last Word” television program host, Sawsan Al-Sha’er, hosted Afaf Al-Jamri in that show in which they talked about a wide range of topics, including the dearth of parliamentary achievements in their inaugural term and other topics; however, the television censor took it upon him or herself to decide that it was against the national interest to broadcast those “derogatory” segments and editing scissors had chopped a few segments before it went to air.

That incensed Al-Sha’er, rightly, so she boycotted the program and stopped presenting it, the press took it up (arabic) and the king took notice (arabic), and once again had to step in to tell people that he respects differing opinions and that freedoms of expression are sacrosanct in Bahrain during an audience with his majesty yesterday with Ms. Al-Sha’er.

That’s all very laudable. But, I’m afraid, your majesty, that once again your Ministry of Information and the rest of the government apparatus will take note of your valuable advice for just a few days, “until things calm down”, and then they will unashamedly go back to exactly what they’ve been used to, and over-stepping the line and ignoring citizen’s rights is a certain reality.

Therefore, I respectfully suggest, your majesty, that as you are serious about these issues, and as you are the head of all powers in the Kingdom, that you issue a law – yes ignoring parliament – and put it in the constitution if you must, that will guarantee these rights in such a language that does not invite haphazard interpretation which could once again restrict our rights.

If I may further suggest, your majesty, as all advanced and most advancing countries do not have a Ministry of Information, it would do the country good to once and for all dismantle it and free the television, broadcasting, and press markets once and for all; in one stroke you would have saved your government an inordinate amount of money and much more heartache as well as increase our good shares in the world’s psyche that we are indeed a developing nation who no longer believe in packaged state propaganda.

As constructive criticism is also very high on your majesty’s mind, you might want to remove those things that people have been constructively and passionately complaining about: I draw your majesty’s attention to the inappropriate Assembly Law which took only 12 minutes to be approved by your Shura Council and which specifically flies in the face of your citizen’s freedoms and rights as human beings apart from being at variance with the various human rights protocols which the kingdom is party to, repeal Law 56 of 2002 which equated torturers with their victims, repeal Law 47 of 2002 which shackled the press and freedoms of expression, re-distributed electoral districts with fairness and amend the constitution in such a way that the parliament truly represents your people, the ability to question any minister – including the prime minister – in open parliamentary session would also be a good idea and will demonstrate that we are truly a transparent and civil society.

I am sure that there are a lot more things I can propose, your majesty, however, I shall refrain from doing so at this moment as I believe the above are sufficient to allow your citizens to live with dignity and if promulgated, would return you back to your rightful place, carried with pride on the shoulders of your happy citizens.

Share

Irrepressible

Posted on

Here’s a pledge that I would – and have – taken quite readily:

I believe the Internet should be a force for political freedom, not repression. People have the right to seek and receive information and to express their peaceful beliefs online without fear or interference.

I call on governments to stop the unwarranted restriction of freedom of expression on the Internet – and on companies to stop helping them do it.

Irrepressible.Info

Sounds good? Of course it does.
Sounds fair? Of course it does.

Today Amnesty International and The Observer collaborated again and launched another initiative that would ensure respect for and upholds the freedoms of speech in the digital age. They’re asking us to do something very simple, just abide by the pledge represented above.

If you would like to lend your support, before you head over to Irrepressible.Info, think deeply within yourself how YOU could uphold this right and help everyone in the digital domain to speak their minds without the fear of persecution, vilification, imprisonment and other state sponsored terrorism against the individual’s right to express him or herself.

For instance, the Ministry of Information in Bahrain has still NOT rescinded the requirement to register websites, even though the penalties in that administrative order are not applied now, doesn’t mean – in the continued presence of that order – that it won’t be applied at any time or against any webmaster or owner in the future. One wishes of course that the Ministry of Information would unequivocally come out and say that this order is not longer valid and has been cancelled…

Of course we shouldn’t also forget that despicable Press Law 47 (arabic) which every journalist is living under…

Share

Citizen Journalists win against Apple, Bahrain MoI are you listening?

Posted on

Briefly, Apple was pissed off with a site scooping it and releasing information it deemed still confidential, so they went after the guy who published the news and he didn’t budge, and in their infinite wisdom Apple thought they’d bring out their 4-pound hammers to force it out of the webmaster telling the court that (to the effect) as he’s not registered with the Ministry of Information he should not enjoy “real” journalist privileges, so he should tell them who the leaker was.

The court brought out its verdict last week telling Apple to, well, stuff it!

This is a huge win (in the States) for online forums, bloggers and citizen journalists. I’m not holding my breath for courts in Bahrain to be this partial to us, nor do I have any trust for the Ministry of Information that it will retool itself to be the protector of freedoms of speech and be a catalyst that would propel writers and journalists to excel in their jobs. But this event is certainly something that the powers that be should keep very much in mind.

A state appeals court on Friday rejected Apple Computer Inc.’s bid to identify the sources of leaked product information that appeared on Web sites, ruling that online reporters and bloggers are entitled to the same protections as traditional journalists.

“In no relevant respect do they appear to differ from a reporter or editor for a traditional business-oriented periodical who solicits or otherwise comes into possession of confidential internal information about a company,” Justice Conrad Rushing of the 6th District Court of Appeal wrote in a unanimous 69-page ruling.

“We decline the implicit invitation to embroil ourselves in questions of what constitutes ‘legitimate journalism,” he wrote. “The shield law is intended to protect the gathering and dissemination of news, and that is what petitioners did here.”

The online journalists are thus entitled to the protections provided under California’s shield law as well as the privacy protections for e-mails allowed under federal law, the court ruled.
AP
Hat tip: BuzzMachine

Share

Going South

If you’re already wet, would being sprayed make you even wetter? What if you jumped in the pool when you’re already wet, would that make you wetter? Of course not. So what if Bahrain once again went south in its ranking in the Press Freedom Index for 2006? Okay, it’s just a few ranking postions: from 155 in 2004 to 156 in 2005 and 158 in 2006… the only bright side of this that I can think of is that we have reached bottom, and the only way is up, or get covered in silt and wait a few million years to make something worthwhile of our existence!

Let’s see what the full 2005 report says about us (pdf) and revel in its praise:

BAHRAIN
STATUS: NOT FREE

LEGAL ENVIRONMENT: 24
POLITICAL ENVIRONMENT: 26
ECONOMIC ENVIRONMENT: 22
TOTAL SCORE: 72

The constitution allows for the right to press freedom, excluding opinions that undermine the fundamental beliefs of Islam or those that promote discord or sectarianism. This right is restricted further in practice. The 2002 Press Law catalogs a variety of press crimes, severely curtailing the range of topics the press is permitted to cover. Though suspended
soon after promulgation, the law continues to be enforced at the government’s discretion. Nonetheless, the press has grown bolder in its criticism of government policies and other controversial issues in recent years. In May, the Chamber of Deputies proposed a draft law to create an Information Council that would increase transparency and access to information. As of December, the draft had not been approved.

Internet freedom came under increased pressure in Bahrain in 2005. Despite boasting a liberal telecom environment, the Bahraini government does filter some content, monitoring emails and blocking access to several political opposition websites, In February the government arrested the moderator of the web log www.bahrainonline.com, Ali Abdul Imam, along with two web technicians for disseminating defamatory material through the site’s discussion forum. Released after several weeks amid protest, Abdul Imam’s arrest was quickly followed by a decree by the Ministry of Information requiring all Bahraini website moderators to register with the ministry within three months, a move decried by human rights advocates as a means to monitor and stifle freedom of expression on the web. The government is not the only threat to press freedom. For example, a Muslim cleric threatened the editor-in-chief of the daily Al Ayam and led a massive protest after the paper published political cartoons depicting the Ayatollah Khamenei and offending many Shi’ites in Bahrain.

Print media are privately owned, but they usually exercise self-censorship in articles covering sensitive topics and are often issued government ‘directives’ on how to report certain stories. The government continues to own and operate almost all radio and television stations in the country, and these outlets largely conform to the government position. In October, the first private radio station began broadcasting music and entertainment, but does not cover news or current affairs. Broadcast media from neighboring countries are available, however, and the number of households with access to satellite channels continues to grow. Saudi-owned entertainment satellite channel MBC2 has broadcast from Bahrain since 2003. In 2004, the government lifted a two-year ban on correspondents from the Qatar-based satellite channel Al-Jazeera.
Freedom House :: MENA 2006 Freedom of the Press report :: pdf

In a recent press release, the same organisation said this about this whole region, and I cannot agree with its conclusion more:

Despite overall improvements in press freedom in the Middle East and North Africa over the last several years, the region continues to rank the lowest for press freedoms in the world, according to a major study released today by Freedom House. However, there are a number of countries that are close to an upgrade from Not Free to Partly Free status, if a few key reforms are implemented.

Generally, media in the region remain constrained by extremely restrictive legal environments in most countries. Most problematic to media freedom are the laws criminalizing libel and defamation and prohibiting any insult to monarchs and other rulers, as well as emergency legislation that remains in place which hampers the ability of journalists to write freely.
Freedom House :: 27 Apr ’06

I hope our exalted MPs, especially the bearded ones are listening.

This is what you (the MPs) take with you to your graves.. you had a real chance in your lives at least to attempt to make a difference, and you continue to squander it.

Well done Bahrain. I would like, on this very auspicious occasion, to congratulate both the Ministry of Information and the Bahraini Parliament for these reports and new rankings.

Share

Press Freedom Day

Posted on

On the eve of the Press Freedom Day, the press in this, as well as virtually the whole Middle East, are in shackles, with parliaments aiding and abetting the press and its workers’ incarceration, utilising that ever-present fillip: religion, to justify imprisoning journalists and anyone else who dares to speak their mind and challenge a preconceived notion.

The parliament here for instance is doing nothing but donning its collective religious blinkers in insisting on jail terms for anyone who denigrates God or religions, this grievous harm is to be interpreted in such a malleable manner as to make it permissible for probably any lay person or journalist to see the inside of cells for long periods of their lives for simply looking at the sky and describing that experience in terms which might not be agreeable to the law enforcer’s ears. While the parliament is on a roll with imprisoning people for their thoughts, they thought that they might as well jail anyone who denigrates the king too.

It doesn’t stop there: from memory let me recount what could be regarded as jailable offence if this new law being debated now actually passes:

Denigrating God in all of His manifestations; in Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.
Denigrating the prophet.
Denigrating the prophet’s wives.
Denigrating the prophet’s companions.
Denigrating the prophet’s descendants.
Denigrating the King.
Denigrating countries which Bahrain has relations with.

There must be some others that they will cook up, but those are what my memory serves.

How can one even decide that an offence has been made to any of the above? Isn’t an offence a very subjective manner? What is offensive to you might not be to me, and hence the absence of clear definitions of laws leads to nothing but strife and societal discord.

Why do we need this anyway? Do we need to defend our creator at every turn in life and age? Couldn’t He take ample care of Himself? Would He really be offended if someone swore at him? Or is this used as a simple and accessible tool of and for suppression? More importantly, doesn’t that very law precludes scientific and artistic exploration? Everything will stop for the fear of making an offence.

What about a law that criminalises criticism of a monarch, doesn’t that law by definition breeches a law that criminalises denigrating God because that would put both on the same level? Yet we find the very proponents of such law are those who have installed themselves as the defenders of the faith!

All of these laws would serve nothing but be a hindrance to true and courageous journalism and self expression which would ensure transparency in this country, and threatening its practitioners with prison terms and heavy fines would serve nothing but increase corruption.

On the eve of the Press Freedom Day, let us pause a little and think of these unfortunate heroes who have lost their lives or are imprisoned for doing nothing but express their thoughts for the betterment of their societies:

Happy press freedom day.

Share

Freedom without security isn’t much of a freedom!

blogging the 4th Arab Media Forum in Dubai

This is the over-riding feeling at the “Status of Iraqi media” chaired by Jassim Al-Azzawi and included Faisal Al-Yasseri (founder and chairman of Al-Diyar television channel), Ismael Zayer (Managing Editor at Al-Sabah Al-Jadeed newspaper) and Adnan Hussain (the noted writer and long time Saddam-regime opponent writing for Asharq Al-Awsat in London) as panelists.

Although the session started later than advertised, once it got going the panelists shared with us some surprising facts about how they see the Iraqi media as they live it, day in and day out. The most surprising factor to me is their adaptability to a scene without rules was and is painful! Imagine Al-Yasseri chasing government organisations for 6 months to notify them of his intention to start a television channel (notification, mind you, not seeking approval) and the absence of laws was also a deterrant to “real” journalism as there is no press and publication law, according to Zayer, which he still vehemently opposes, but is now insisting on the establishment of a ‘code of ethics’ that would bind all journalists.

Another surprising factor is the plethora of media outlets there are in Iraq: according to them, there are 26 satellite television stations, 40 terrestrial television stations and more than 100 newspapers including just a few tabloids! Try to compare that with what the scene was like just a few years ago. But all is not very happy, the whole media industry is in a flux; newspapers, television and radio channels have become far too politically motivated, with no real disclosure on who owns what, but a person can certainly deduce where a particular publication or television station is leaning. Apart from their political stances, a number of media outlets are clearly sectarian, even to the extent of using derogatory terms in which to call one sect or another. Some even go to the extent of inciting violence, and here is the biggest surprise to me: Iraqis – according to the panelists anyway – detest Al-Jazeera! Al-Jazeera is scene as nothing more than a terrorist mouth-piece which unashamedly encourage the continuation of violence in Iraq through its twisted reporting and its programs. The very same method has been adopted by a number of sectarian stations, which – Al-Azzawi says – had there been any liability laws, the vast majority of journalists and media persons would probably be thrown in prison not to be seen again.

According to Zayer again, there are quite a number publications which are indirectly owned by the government or political parties; more importantly, these government organs channels funds and advertising revenue to their preferred papers and not just ignoring others who do not share their views, but create a number of hurdles to cripple those which fell out of their favours. One such tactic is the “partial shutdown of districts/marshal law” which not only restricts the ability of newspapers to be printed, but completely throttles distribution. Therefore, with no money coming in, publishers continue to be unsure if they can continue to produce such a newspaper.

That restriction is by no means the exclusive domain of government; however, again Zayer stresses that if for instance Al-Sadr or his people get aggrieved because of a written article, then you could forget distributing your paper into their controlled territories in Baghdad and the south; while if you tick off the sunni leaders, you could forget about distributing your paper in parts of Baghdad, Ramadi, Fallujah and Mosul.

The television landscape is not much different than newspapers, Al-Yasseri related to us that although on the books he has 291 employees at Al-Diyar television channel, he would get ecstatic if only 60 turn up for work! He is lucky that he does not have to resort to installing concrete defences around his station (which was the original Al-Jazeera headquarters in Baghdad previously) some of his employees paid with their lives reporting for the only live program he provides (the news): one reporter was killed in Fallujah by shooting, another got killed in Baghdad, and yet another was killed because it became known that he was carrying cash on him (US$13,000) to go buy a UPS for the station. Al-Yasseri believes that the last victim was murdered because someone at the station collaborating with outside criminal elements for the cash, this shows very clearly the lawlessness Iraq suffers from, and the disregard for human life there at the moment.

As to freedoms, it was agreed that although media is infinitely freer than it was in the previous era, there is no sense for that freedom if it is not coupled with a secure environment where a journalist continuously fears for his or her life. This was amply demonstrated by Adnan Hussain who read to us one of his regularly received death threats from Iraq from someone who took umbrage with Hussain’s criticism of Dr. Ja’afari, even though it should be noted that generally, when a journalist criticises someone, that criticism is not personal but most probably to the position he fills.

Share

An historic day for our parliament

Posted on

Will they rise up to the challenge, or continue to disappoint?

Today they hold a special session to discuss and amend the Press Law which contains parts which necessitate imprisoning journalists for what they write.

The islamists – as expected – are all for imprisoning the writer AND his managing editor who dares challenge any of their beliefs and crosses what they mark as a red line. Demanding respect by terror, but not stopping of course at denigrating God, religions, the Qur’an and the Prophets, but going further by criminalising anyone who dares question the Prophet’s (Mohammed) companions and wives, and as a nod to the Shi’as I guess, the Prophet’s progeny.

The penalty for this is a minimum prison sentence of 3 months to 1 year AND a fine the minimum of which is BD 5,000 to 10,000.

I’m not sure how they could reconcile this over the top punishments when (a) the king specifically said that he is completely against jailing journalists for their thoughts, and (b) the constitution which specifically says that punishment should be individual rather than several.

I’m not sure either how they could reconcile this with the two agreements the king has signed (but parliament didn’t pass yet) which deal with the political and human rights as detailed by the United Nations.

The thing is, reading the papers since last Tuesday, several political parties have changed their tune (read Al-Wasat and Al-Waqt of today for analysis) and most are not doing away with imprisonment and replacing that with heavy fines.

We await the outcome of these special sessions… I just hope that they look at this law as an important democratic tool to insure Bahrain’s progress going forth, rather than some known numbskulls translating it into ways to get their own back at the press and handcuff journalists from exposing corruption and reporting the truth.

Share

Even more!

Jamal Dawood must be salivating at the prospect of me finding even more bloggers that he potentially can prosecute!

Following on from a tip by Haitham Sabbah, I looked at a whole list of Bahraini blogs on blogger.com, and am I absolutely glad that I have ’cause I found out that one of my favourite journalist has a blog too!

Heart Gate is an Arabic blog by Bahraini journalist and cinema enthusiast (he’s also very involved in the Bahrain Cinema Club) Mohammed Fadhel. I always look forward to his columns, and now his blog will be a definite fixture in my daily cruises.

Thanks for the tip Haitham.

update 050820L2023: blogger link fixed thanks to News Reblog Blog team observation. Thanks guys

Share

According to Jamal Dawood, 82 sites already registred…

When you consider that there are possibly tens of thousands of sites about Bahrain or are run from it, this is an abject failure (arabic) of his department.

What boggles the mind is that he still doesn’t take the opportunity to tell the whole world that the government, and his department in particular, has listened to criticism and acted democratically by abolishing this archaic administrative order.

I guess his office should really celebrate Bahrain taking THIRD PLACE in the Most Dangerous Places to Blog from!

Jamal Dawood now says that his department has referred 46 (yes FORTY SIX) cases to the Public Prosecutor including some websites for transgressing various offences including the Press Law over the last six months.

Bahrain is about to become even a more dangerous place to blog from… if you blog under your own identity that is.

Can someone please put an end to this farce? Can we please take back what has been lost in image and reputation before it is lost for ever?

Share