Arab media regulations: Identifying restraints on freedom of the press in laws of six Arabian Peninsula countries
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Arab media regulations: Identifying restraints on freedom of the press in laws of six Arabian Peninsula countries



Identifying restraints on freedom of the press in laws of six Arabian Peninsula countries

Identifying restraints on freedom of the press in laws of six Arabian Peninsula countries



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Arab media regulations: Identifying restraints on freedom of the press in laws of six Arabian Peninsula countries Arab media regulations: Identifying restraints on freedom of the press in laws of six Arabian Peninsula countries Presentation Transcript

  • I D E N T I F Y I N G R E S T R A I N T S O N F R E E D O M O F T H E P R E S S I N L A W S O F S I X A R A B I A N P E N I N S U L A C O U N T R I E S B Y M A T T J . D U F F Y , P H . D . K E N N E S A W S T A T E U N I V E R S I T Y K E N N E S A W , G A . A E J M C P R E S E N T A T I O N – A U G U S T 1 1 , 2 0 1 3 W A S H I N G T O N , D . C . Arab Media Regulations
  • Purview of the study  Arab press environments understood to be “authoritarian” (Siebert, Peterson, and Schramm)  But, what legal tools are used to create this environment?  Not a well-researched area. Why?  Academics in the region suffer from same self-censorship as the press  General lack of transparency  Language (Most images public domain. Source:
  • Methodology  Examined laws that affect media freedom in six Gulf Countries  Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates  Sources included Arabic-language documents:  Constitutions, penal codes, media laws, cybercrime laws  Many not available in English or easily accessible online  Translations/research supported by:
  • Methodology and limitations  Analyzed constitutions, penal codes, laws  Most legal analyses also focus on legal rulings  However, these generally don’t exist in Arab world  Defamation lawyer: GCC legal rulings “don’t say very much in terms of judicial analysis.”  Also examined press and NGO reports  But, press environment means that local journalist accounts of rulings are often nebulous  Journalists themselves worried about how they report on cases involving media freedom  Best to just offer short articles without too many details  Ex.: Exact law used in conviction sometimes hard to decipher
  • Theoretical grounding  International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights  United Nations treaty  Section 19 guides governments on normative balance between right to free expression with other obligations  For example: protection of reputation and public order  Analyzed regulations as compared to ICCPR  Some fit within boundaries, some didn’t
  • Sec. 19 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) 1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference… 3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary: (a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; (b) For the protection of national security or of public order or of public health or morals.
  • Laws, regulations inside ICCPR purview
  • Defamation – libel and slander  Protection of reputation  Arab press laws differ in three ways from international norms  1) Criminal vs. Civil  Localities that approach libel and slander as civil crime: Chile, Japan, South Korea, Costa Rica, the European Union, Canada, United States, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Central African Republic  2) Truth as defense for defamation  No one deserves to protect a reputation they don’t deserve  3) Public figures should receive less defamation protection than private figures
  • National security and public order  All countries limit speech on these grounds  But, how/where to limit speech is important to ensure protection of robust political speech  In U.S., line has been drawn at “imminent lawless action.”  Even discussion of violent overthrow of government is protected political speech (Brandenburg vs. Ohio)  In Europe, line drawn at “incitement to hatred.”  In GCC/Arab world – use of “public order” laws often used against critical speech, basic reporting
  • Public morals  Obscentity/Indecency  Protection of religion/Blasphemy  Countries vary widely on these perspectives  No generally accepted “best practice”  Rarely involve protection of political speech  Except, perhaps, in Saudi Arabia  Better left unaddressed in this research
  • Laws, regulations outside ICCPR purview
  • Licensing of news outlets and journalists  GCC countries require licensing of journalists, news outlets  UAE’s laws are emblematic:  Owner of the news outlet shall be a UAE national, not less than 25 years old, “fully competent,” of good conduct and behavior, not convicted of any moral offenses, not serving in a public post  College degree and join a journalism association.  Must file appropriate paperwork with the government that includes the names and nationalities of the editors.  Make a financial deposit (around $13,500) to cover “settlement of fines imposed by the provisions of this law or any other law.”  Media outlet cannot publish or broadcast if its license expires or if it is ordered to shut down by a proper authority.
  • Licensing of news outlets and journalists  Licensing viewed as giving gov’t officials leverage to discourage critical reporting  Ruling from Inter-American Court of Human Rights (1984):  “General welfare requires the greatest possible amount of information, and it is the full exercise of the right of expression that benefits this general welfare ... A system that controls the right of expression in the name of a supposed guarantee of the correctness and truthfulness of the information that society receives can be the source of great abuse and, ultimately, violates the right to information that this same society has.”  Overturned Costa Rican licensing law.
  • Criticism of ruler, public officials  Lese-Majeste laws – aka “injured king”  Rarely used in countries with free speech protections  European Court of Human Rights threw out conviction for insulting French President Sarkozy (2013, 35 Euro fine.)  Widely used in GCC countries, Arab world (jail time)  Difficult to separate legitimate reporting, critical speech from true “insult.”  Most Arab countries also offer protection of public figures from “insulting speech.”  Journalist uncovering corruption in Oman convicted of insulting the minister in charge
  • False news  All GCC countries (sans Qatar) require journalists or social media users to only disseminate “true” info  Ex: Bahrain: Illegal to make “false report” on a public hearing  Requiring truth seems noble, international norms hold such laws can suppress good, critical reporting  Uganda Supreme Court (1984):  “The right to freedom of expression extends to holding, receiving and imparting all forms of opinions, ideas and information. It is not confined to categories, such as correct opinions, sound ideas or truthful information.”  Overturned false news conviction over report of bribe to president
  • Others laws outside purview of ICCPR  Don’t publish info that damages the economy  Don’t disparage Islamic/friendly country/king  Only offer “constructive criticism” (Saudi Arabia)  No article defaming Arabs and their civilization  Such bans are “overly broad.”
  • Conclusions  Laws, regulations should be brought in line with international standards regarding:  Defamation  Public order  Licensing  Insult to rulers  False news  Overly broad prohibitions
  • The End!  Slides posted on:  Follow me at:  And on Twitter: @mattjduffy  Email: