With the exception of Qatar, Arab ministers of information submit a document imposing tough restrictions on freedom of satellite transmission

Cairo February, 13th, 2008

The Arabic Network for human Rights said today that the document approved by the Arab Ministers of Information in their Arab League meeting yesterday, is restricting freedom of circulating information and imposing tough restriction upon freedom of satellite transmission in the Arab region on the basis of empty claims & irrational reasons. This aims to impose restrictions on the Arab citizens right to knowledge & information on from different sources and opinions.

Based upon Saudi-Egyptian initiative and Qatari reservation, the document approved by the Arab ministers of Information included many restrictions and vague articles that legislate an extensive role of censorship on what materials broadcasted in space channels, whether news, live events or talk shows, on the pretext of respecting the national sovereignty and not harming "social peace and national unity and public order ".

As usual, when the Arab governmental officials deal with some issue related to freedom of expression, the document approved by Arab ministers of Information approached from its beginning many expressions and articles regarding the citizen right to free information and to freedom of expression. Then the document added a lot of vague articles that impose tough restrictions that actually confiscate freedom of expression and diversity of opinions which are posed by satellite channels.

The "flexible" restrictions imposed by the document included: Taking into consideration the ethics & morals of dialogue and discussion.

The citizen's right to freedom of information.

Adherence to a time table of transmission set by censorship bodies that monitor programs content.

Programs in space channels should not defame or harm national or religious leaders and figures.

Respecting the individuals privacy and not violating it "in any form".

Freedom of expression should be practiced "wisely and with responsibility". The above mentioned are just striking examples of expressions that abound by the laws of publishing and penal laws that journalists and citizens are suffering from on a daily basis, while thousands of them are thrown into jails.

Also, the document imposed severe penalties against any one who violates these "flexible" texts in the document, as these penalties could mount to license withdrawal, license suspension, whether completely or for a limited duration of time, as well as confiscating equipments and machinery.

The Arabic Network for human Rights Information said "it wasn't a coincidence for the initiative comes from the Saudi and Egyptian ministers of information, as the two countries are actually hostile to freedom of expression and are making every effort to muffle all the calls for democracy and reform. The document approved by the Arab Ministers of Information is actually violating the rights of the legislative authorities, in spite of the fact that this authority is in total submission to the government in Egypt, and is non existing in the first place in Saudi Arabia, while constitutions state clearly that there is no punishment to be imposed except through a legislation ".

It is worthy to mention that most state-controlled channels failed to gain the Arab citizens trust who are now more keen to follow the space channels after they have succeeded in gaining credibility.

The document approved by Arab ministers of Information discusses, in a misleading way, the pornographic and quasi pornographic materials broadcasted by some space channels but actually restriction is targeting in fact the space channels which broadcasts serious programs, conveying top-hour events and promoting viewpoints that annoy the governments represented by those ministers. Some of the targeted channels are Al-Jazeera, al-Arabia, Al-Hurra and Al-Hiwar.

Mr.Gamal Eid The Executive Director of the Arabic Network of Human rights Information said "the Arab governments failed to control the internet despite of the large number of blocked websites, filed legal cases and imprisoning many activists, so they would definitely fail to control the space channels and won't manage to deprive the Arab citizen from watching credible space channels, that are not just platforms of hypocrisy that praise autocratic leaders and governments. They will fail because of the efforts & struggle of those who advocate the freedom of expression and freedom of circulating information , which are the very rights violated in the abovementioned document".

http://www.hrinfo.net/en/reports/2008/pr0213.shtml