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GCC Media Laws: Review and Analysis


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A review and analysis of the laws and regulations concerning speech and the press in the GCC countries: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates

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GCC Media Laws: Review and Analysis

  1. 1. GCC MediaLaws: Reviewand AnalysisBy Dr. Matt J. DuffyDoha Centrefor Media Freedom
  2. 2. Project Doha Centre suggested, supported this analysis Much is known about restrictions to free speech, press in GCC Little known about legal mechanisms that create GCC: this environment Bahrain, Kuwait, Om an, Qatar, Saudi Must know where we Arabia and United are, to know how to Arab Emirates move forward
  3. 3. Research Primarysources: Media laws, penal codes, regulations from six GCC countries  Some media laws (Saudi, Oman) were not available anywhere in English.  Doha Centre translated them and will publish on site as part of final project  Secondary sources: Accounts from books, press reports and NGOs  Withparticular attention paid to which laws, regulations used to restrict speech, press  Result: 80-page report
  4. 4. Overview Reporters Without Freedom House Country Borders Ranking (2011) Press Freedom Category (2012) (1 to 179) (Free, Partly Free, or Not Free)Bahrain 173 Not FreeKuwait 78 Partly FreeOman 117 Not FreeQatar 114 Not FreeSaudi Arabia 158 Not FreeUAE 112 Not Free
  5. 5. Findings Most of countries featured similar laws  Can this be traced back to British rule? Kuwait’s laws largely as restrictive as rest, but active parliament, culture of public debate helped its relative rankings Saudi Arabia has no official penal code. Observers say laws often quite fluid, with authorities making arrests then later deciding which specific laws were broken
  6. 6. Conclusions &Recommendations All Constitutions except Saudi contained clause guaranteeing “freedom of expression” All offered “within limits of law” caveat Not necessarily surprising, nor different than other countries All countries do limit freedom of expression in some way… but where the line is drawn is what differs between GCC, countries with developed press freedoms
  7. 7. Conclusions &Recommendations Criminal defamation laws  Aim to protect reputation  Can be used to squelch any criticism or objective reporting  Truth not necessarily a defense  Lead to jail for journalists, which prompts huge self-censorship Recommendation: Civil defamation laws  Allow courts to fine journalists who defame  Specify truth is always a defense  Different thresholds for public vs. private figures
  8. 8. Conclusions &Recommendations AllGCC countries require the licensing of journalists  Leads to self-censorship because journalists can worry that their licenses will be revoked Recommendation: No licenses  Allow journalists to self-regulate  Countries with strong protections for press freedom tend to feature journalism groups that stress high ethical standards (and no licensing.)
  9. 9. Conclusions &Recommendations AllGCC countries list prohibitions journalists must follow  Don’t report anything:  That will harm the national economy  Upset the public order  Critical of an Arab state, leader Recommendation: No broad restrictions  Instead of “upset public order,” ban the incitement of “imminent lawless action.”  Much less broad
  10. 10. Conclusions &Recommendations AllGCC countries feature prohibitions against “insulting” or “criticizing” the ruler  i.e., lese-majeste laws  Common in British colonial laws Recommendations:  Eliminate these prohibitions  Insulting prohibitions, though, carry cultural weight in Arab world…
  11. 11. Conclusions &Recommendations “Truth” mandated in reporting  Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Oman Sounds like a good idea – why shouldn’t reporting be truthful?  But, leads to self-censorship Recommendations:  Eliminate calls for “truth” in reporting  Truth should be used in civil defamation cases – so factual errors in reporting can lead to financial damages.
  12. 12. Conclusions &Recommendations No media laws speak to value of journalism as a force for good in society  Journalism treated as industry that must simply be regulated  In countries with developed press freedoms, attempts to punish journalists balanced by understood value of free, critical press Recommendation: Add language to media laws like from Abu Dhabi Media Zone “content guidelines”…
  13. 13. Conclusions &Recommendations Abu Dhabi Media Zone content guidelines: Protects journalists who engage in: “the exposure of crime, corruption, antisocial behavior, injustice or serious impropriety, protecting public health or safety, exposing lies, hypocrisy or materially misleading claims made by individuals or organizations, disclosing incompetence, and negligence or dereliction of duty that affects the public.”
  14. 14. The End Thanks for listening! Full report slated for release on Doha Centre for Media Freedom’s website by end of year.  Will submit shortened version to Communication Law and Policy  My website @mattjduffy  Follow me on Twitter