Despite Arab uprisings, press freedom still elusive


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Presentation at AUSACE conference in Tangier, Morocco. Nov. 11-14, 2013.

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Despite Arab uprisings, press freedom still elusive

  1. 1. Despite Arab Uprisings, Press Freedom Still Elusive Published in By Dr. Matt J. Duffy Kennesaw State University AUSACE Conference Tangier, Morocco Nov. 11-14
  2. 2. In Arab world, since 2011  Few improvements in press freedom     Libya Egypt Yemen Tunisia  More restrictions     Oman Jordan United Arab Emirates Saudi Arabia
  3. 3. Press Freedom Rankings  FH 2013: ―Partly Free‖  Libya, Lebanon, Kuwait, Tunisia  Libya and Tunisia retained their status  All other countries ―not free‖  Disappointing since one of lessons of Arab Spring was public wanted more uncensored info  Twitter, FB, YouTube became conduits  ―As long as you don’t write about the king, the military, religion or sex you can cover anything you want.‖ – Jordanian journalist, ―The New Arab Journalist‖
  4. 4. Research questions  What are legal elements that have led to poor rankings?  Defamation — penal codes  Insult charges  False news laws  Public order laws  Licensing of journalists  How have governments changed legal restrictions in wake of Arab Spring?
  5. 5. Defamation  International norms (Europe, US, South America, Central America, Japan, S. Korea)  Civil, not criminal charges  Harder for public figures than private figures to win  Truth is an absolute defense  Arab world – exact opposite  Criminal charges—defamation charges start with complaint to police  ―Aggravating factor‖ if public figure defamed  Truth not necessarily a defense
  6. 6. Defamation — 2013 cases  Morocco's prosecutors charged Alaan Magazine editor with criminal defamation after he published an exposé about a public official ordering champagne while on a taxpayer-funded trip abroad. His report was verified with receipts.  In Tunisia, a university professor and blogger was charged with criminal defamation of public officials. The blogger had documented unethical spending by the former Foreign Minister. • In Kuwait, an online publisher of ―Alaan‖ newspaper was sent to prison for defaming the former Oil Minister after he ―expressed his opinion that there was a need to combat corruption.‖
  7. 7. Insult charges  Laws that ban insults and criticism of rulers or public officials  Not all Arab countries have these laws, most have ban on ruler criticism  Left over ―Lèse-majesté‖ from colonial rule  In 2011, the UAE government convicted five digital activists with ―insulting the ruler‖ and other charges after engaging in a political discussion on a forum site  In Oman, two journalists lost a case in which they were accused of insulting a public official after reporting on corruption in the justice ministry in 2012.  In Kuwait, dozens of citizens—including opposition politicians— have been jailed for ―insulting the Emir‖ via posts on Twitter in 2012-and 2013.
  8. 8. Insult charges  Internationally, insult charges rarely/never used  In 2013, European Court of Human Rights overturned a conviction in France against a man who had allegedly insulted the French president with a sign that contained a profanity.  Even that 30-euro fine was considered an abridgment of free speech.
  9. 9. False News  Many Arab countries make reporting/spreading a falsehood a illegal  Seems noble, but many countries have dispatched such laws as incompatible with free expression  Increasingly used against social media speech  Uganda Supreme Court (2014):  A person’s expression or statement is not precluded from the constitutional protection simply because it is thought by another or others to be false, erroneous, controversial or unpleasant… Indeed, the protection is most relevant and required where a person’s views are opposed or objected to by society or any part thereof, as ―false‖ or ―wrong.‖
  10. 10. False news — recent charges  In UAE, Article 38 of the cybercrime law prohibits spreading ―any incorrect, inaccurate, or misleading information which may damage the interests of the state or injures its reputation, prestige, or stature.‖  Used against social activist who was tweeting details of trial in which foreign media was barred  False news charges in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait as well.  In Egypt, Al Watan newspaper charged with ―false news that could disturb public peace‖ after report on plans of militant terrorist cells.
  11. 11. Public Order Laws  International jurisdictions create specific, narrow rules for arresting any journalist on the grounds of disrupting public order.  For instance, in the United States, a speaker must be advocating ―imminent lawless action‖ before an arrest can be made.  In Europe, ―incitement to hatred‖ would be valid reason to arrest journalist  Wide boundary for journalists
  12. 12. Public Order Laws  Many Arab countries abuse public order laws  In May 2013, the UAE government charged an online activist with violating the public order provision of the recently updated cybercrime law.  The activist was charged with violating Article 28 of cybercrime law, which makes it a crime to use digital technology ―with the intent of inciting to actions, or publishing or disseminating any information, news, caricatures, or other images liable to endanger security and its higher interests or infringe on the public order.‖
  13. 13. Public Order Laws  In 2012, a Kuwait court shut down the largely Shiite newspaper Al-Dar for six months ―prompted by two articles that were accused of inciting violations of public order and expressing hate toward certain religious and social groups.‖ • The articles in question had described the movement of Saudi troops into the Shiite-majority kingdom Bahrain during unrest in that country. • Such reporting does not appear rooted in a desire to upset public order or create religious strife.
  14. 14. Licensing of journalists  All Arab countries require journalists to be licensed  In some countries laws on the books not enforced  Licensing of journalists is seen as infringement of free speech since journalists who offend powerful figures could have their licenses revoked  Television outlets are licensed because of spectrum scarcity  Jordan forced online news outlets in register in 2013  Iraq revoked journalism licenses for nine broadcast outlets.
  15. 15. Result? Self-censorship  An editor for a Saudi paper says ―we know our limits and in a way practice self-censorship. There have been troubles when red lines have been crossed.‖  Egyptian reporter working for an Emirates newspaper said he had asked himself ―two or three times what will be the reaction‖ before publishing an article.  Another Gulf editor said it plainly: ―Our press is infected with the self-censorship virus.‖
  16. 16. Silver linings  It’s not all doom and gloom  Tunisia has retained ―partly free‖ ranking  Hasn’t seen major actions from gov’t to restrict relatively free landcape  Libya has seen 69 new media outlets spring up in free media environment  Free due to lack of government control in general  Yemen still ―not free‖ but far more media freedom than pre-revolution  No journalist deaths in 2012
  17. 17. The End  Matt J. Duffy, PhD  Kennesaw State University  Teach communication law and policy  Slides at:  Twitter: @mattjduffy