CAIRO: Human rights groups have condemned recommendations on satellite television broadcasting regulations recently issued by Arab ministers of information during a meeting of the Arab League.
The non-binding document of Feb. 12 entitled “Principles for Organizing Satellite Broadcast and Television Transmission and Reception in the Arab Region, recommends that broadcasters “protect the supreme interests of Arab states and “respect the principle of national sovereignty.
It also states that freedom of expression should be used “wisely and with responsibility.
The document recommends that Arab League member states confiscate equipment, impose fines, and withdraw the licenses from satellite channels which are judged to have violated these principles.
Only Qatar rejected the document.
In a statement issued Wednesday by Human Rights Watch, Joe Stork, Program Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said that the principles will be used to stifle freedom of expression.
It says that vaguely-worded legal provisions are frequently used to control the media in Arab states, pointing to Egypt where last year four newspaper editors were found guilty of publishing “false news, statements and rumors likely to disturb public order.
“Many Arab states routinely use this language of ‘state interests’ and ‘national sovereignty’ as an excuse to imprison journalists and intimidate critics, Stork is quoted as saying. “These so-called principles are nothing but a crude assault on free speech.
In a statement, the Egyptian human rights group the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (HRInfo) said that Egypt and Saudi Arabia – whose ministers of information sponsored the document – routinely abuse the right to freedom of expression.
“It is no coincidence that the initiative came from the Saudi and Egyptian ministers of information, as the two countries are hostile to freedom of expression and are making every effort to muffle calls for democracy and reform, the statement reads.
Gamal Eid, Executive Director of HRInfo said in the statement that Arab governments will not succeed in controlling satellite channels.
“Arab governments have failed to control the internet despite the large number of blocked websites, legal cases and imprisoned activists, Eid is quoted as saying. “They will not stop Arab citizens from watching credible space channels which are not just platforms of hypocrisy that praise autocratic leaders and governments, he wrote.