7 March 2008

Joint action

Arab League's proposed satellite broadcasting regulations would impede needed criticism of corruption and repression, warn 34 organisations

Incident details

(HRinfo/IFEX) - The following is a 5 March 2008 joint statement by HRinfo, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and 31 other organisations:

34 International and Arabian Human Rights Organisations declare: The document of organizing space transmission is invalid through its form and content

The undersigned human rights organisations confirm their total rejection of the document "Principles regulating Radio and Satellite TV Transmission and Receiving in the Arab Region", adopted by Arab ministers of information on 12 February 2008. Human rights organisations said that the document, which contains 12 articles, is full of ambiguous statements that would impose new restrictions on freedom of expression on the Arab satellite channels and is invalid without the affirmation of the Arab countries' parliaments.

Despite the document's first claim that it aims to "organize broadcasting and re-broadcasting, as well as receiving broadcasts in the Arab region, pay respect to freedom of expression, spread culture, and invigorate the culture through satellite transmission," we find that some articles contain statements that correspond to the same laws targeting critics of Arab governments, such as the statement referring to "the negative impact upon social peace, national unity, public order and politeness, protecting the higher interests of Arab countries and respecting the principle of national sovereignty of each country over its own land."

Human rights organisations who advocate for freedom of expression stated that "the document's articles aim in the first place to restrict documentary and public affairs programmes promoting dialogue which highlight and expose repressive acts and cases of corruption, widespread in the Arab world, by governments that have come to power in non-democratic ways, often against the wishes of their communities.

This document proposes restrictions that are open to interpretation, such as the requirement to "not discredit national leaders and religious figures." The document neither defines the distinction between criticism and "discrediting", nor clarifies clearly the standards for determining those figures. This consequently would result in targeting serious media programme makers and opening the door for governments to practice control and repression of freedom of expression, which violates the rights enshrined in international covenants and charters.

The document obliges television and broadcasting transmission corporations to subject their programme contents to a committee in charge of censorship, which would impose the scheduling of programmes, and intervene to protect children from inappropriate media materials. This would allow the censorship authority to interfere with the content of programmes that governments do not like.

The undersigned human rights organisations are convinced that articles in the document infringe on freedom of publication and broadcasting, which are aspects of freedom of expression.

Additionally, we find that the ministers ignored the legitimate process by which any document or agreement can be made mandatory: by first obtaining the consent of parliaments and legislative bodies, as stipulated in the countries' respective constitutions regarding any international agreement.

The governmental claim that it is just "a document of principles" is a denial of the possibility that governments will take legal action against any satellite channel that exercises its right to broadcast news and information in an independent manner.

This contradicts what is included in the document, which would impose certain punishments which could result in confiscation of the (. . .) equipment and cancellation of the licences of satellite channels opposing the governments' perspectives. This of course violates the legal principle of "no punishment without a court ruling."

Regarding this issue, the undersigned human rights organisations declare they will take the lead in supporting the broadly-based movement rejecting this document, acknowledging the right of media corporations to do their work with no restrictions or censorship and standing by the citizens' right to have serious programmes that reveal corruption and unmask the violations of their rights that citizens suffer from on a daily basis.


The Arabic network for human rights information (HRinfo), Egypt
Arab Program for Human Rights Activists, Egypt
Palestinian Human Rights Foundation (Monitor), Lebanon
Egyptian Association for the Support of the Democratic Development, Egypt
Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement, Egypt
Egyptian Association for Economic & Social Rights, Egypt
Social Democratic Party, Egypt
The Coordinating Committee for the Trade Union and Worker Rights & Liberties, Egypt
Syrian Human Rights Committee, Syria
The Egyptian Observatory for Justice & Law, Egypt
The Egyptian Center for Housing Rights, Egypt
National Center for Human Rights, Egypt
Egyptian Democratic Institute, Egypt
Arabic Foundation for Support of Civil Society & Human Rights, Egypt
National Organisation for Defending Rights and Freedoms, Yemen
Developing Democracy Group, Egypt
Bahraini Human Rights Society, Bahrain
Egyptian Awn human rights association, Egypt
Human Rights First Saudi, Saudi Arabia
Bahrain youth society for human rights, Bahrain
Justice Watch Association, Somalia
The legal assistance of human rights group, Egypt
The Land Center for Human Rights, Egypt
Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Bahrain
Freedom center for political rights and democracy support, Egypt
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Egypt
Nadeem Center for Psychological Therapy and Rehabilitation of the Victims of Violence, Egypt
Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies, Egypt
Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies, Syria
Habi Center for Environmental Rights, Egypt
Maat for juridical & Constitutional Studies, Egypt
Hisham Mubarak law center, Egypt
Forum for Development & Human Rights Dialogue, Egypt
Association for Freedom of Thought & Expression, Egypt

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