Arab League media restrictions

The Arab League is under criticism for a new charter aimed at stopping Arab satellite channels from offending governments in the region. League members overwhelming approved regulations to allow member states to “withdraw, freeze or not renew the work permits of media which break the regulations,” say satellite channels “should not damage social harmony, national unity, public order or traditional values,” and that programming should “conform with the religious and ethical values of Arab society and take account of its family structure.”

Al-Jazeera, the highly professional Qatar-based news network with a global reach through the Internet, released a Feb. 15 statement calling the Arab League’s charter “a risk to the freedom of expression in the Arab world.”

The recommendations were approved earlier in the week by information ministers of the 22-member Arab League.  Qatar, which subsidizes Al-Jazeera, was the only dissenting vote.

Noted a story by Agence France-Presse: “The document, which is not legally binding, was principally backed by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which have frequently complained of being “criticized” in Al-Jazeera programs and on other satellite channels.

AFP included an interview with Agnes Callamard from Article 19, a press freedom organisation: “This is turning into the next stage of censorship which is to try to prevent millions of people in the region to access information. . . The guidelines that have been put forward are so overbroad and over-reaching, they are just really trying to impose a curtain of censorship over the provision of information and simple provision of views.”

Said Al-Jazeera: “Any codes of ethics or governance for journalistic practices should emerge… from within the profession and not be imposed externally by political institutions.”

Hear, hear.

The Al-Jazeera statement is here.

The Agence France-Presse story is here (at the time of posting).

The Article 19 statement is here.