In their Tuesday meeting (Feb 12 2008), The Arab Ministers of Information- except for Qatar and Lebanon- have adopted a charter organizing the activities of the satellite channels in the Arab countries; this charter allows the Arab authorities to withdraw the licenses of any channel or program seen as defaming the political leaders.
The Arab Ministers of Information have signed a satellite broadcasting charter to allow broadcasting via the Arab satellites as well as allowing the their staffs to work in the Arab countries.
This is a step regarded as a logical procedure banning the risks that threaten the youth, Arab values, and national security in the Arab countries. Meanwhile, it"s considered a squash of the already limited freedoms, and an attempt for limiting the media"s freedom and muzzling the opposition.
The Arab Ministers support the charter
Media sources stated that Egypt and Saudi Arabia have strongly supported the charter"s articles in an attempt to limit the criticism they face on several satellite channels, especially Qatar- based Aljazeera.
In a press conference following the ministers meeting, the Egyptian Minister of Information, Anas Al-Fiqi, justified the Egyptian Saudi mutual call for issuing such a charter claiming that the Arab media professionals refuse the insiders who want to gain money by devastating the values of the Arab community, and refuse the defamation practiced on the channels by those who have no values.
He added that they deny the use of these channels as a tool for devastating the Arab communities, breaching their balance, or trading by their problems.
The charter was approved by the Arab Ministers of Information except for Qatar ; which asserted that it was still under study and denoted that opposing the charter is for a legal issue not for a political one.
In the press conference, the Lebanese Minister of Information; Ghazi Al-`Areedi, expressed his refusal of the charter"s principles and the declared items stating that they are "not binding", and said that some of them is against the legislations and principles active in some countries.
The charter includes 13 items aiming at setting certain principles for organizing the satellite broadcasting and allowing any Arab country to withdraw the license of a channel seen as violating the local law or the charter- stated legislations without renewing the license for a period the country determines.
The charter also includes items stating the necessity of respecting the countries, avoiding the defamation of political, national and religious leaders, curbing the instigation of violence, hatred, and discrimination, denying the items instigating terror, and denying the broadcast of any dissolute shows.
Criticism of the charter
In a statement to Ikhwanweb, Dr. Essam Al-Erian; MB prominent leader, stressed that the basic and intended aim of such a charter is to limit the freedom of expression.
He indicated the presence of many persistent calls for curbing the pornographic and violent shows on the Arab channels and to stop all kinds of violations practiced under the banner of the Arabic Media. Meanwhile the media charter adopted by the Arab Ministers of Information aims not to monitor dissolute and profligate shows, but to curb any political activity or as the so- called "banning the defamation of the national and political leaders".
Al-Erian doubted that the implementation of the charter asserting that deliberations and projections are still present on the arena.
Ali Laban; a member of the MB parliamentary bloc, presented an urgent query to the Egyptian parliament criticizing this charter and considered it an "an oriented plan against the political freedom in the satellite channels" in the same time that the Arab Ministers of Information ignore the pornographic channels that devastate the Arab youth.
A charter against freedom of opinion and expression
In a statement to BBC website, Bahiyud-Deen Hasan, manager of Cairo Center for Human Rights Studies, said that the charter adopted by the Arab governments aims at squashing the freedoms of opinion and expression, especially those channels that broke many bonds regarding the freedom of expression of criticism of Arab governments in the recent years.
Dr. Ahmad Kamal Abu Al-Majd, deputy chief of the National Center for Human Rights, said that the presence of few violations in the satellite channels is better than squashing the expression freedom. He asserted, in an interview with an Arab channel, that the most dangerous factor threatening the freedoms is setting forth advanced restrictions. He pointed out that the articles of the charter, which he described as "vague and loose", are risky for the possibility of criminalizing the channels for private reasons not listed in the charter.
It is worthy mentioning that the first article in the charter orders the supply of the comprehensive service for the audience and not to negatively affect the social peace, national unity, or the general system…this, of course, lets the text loose and entitle the Arab authorities to confiscate or ban any channels that covered any event in the Arab countries.
Hafez Abu Se`dah, the Secretary General of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, stressed that the charter discloses the facts of real intention for curbing the freedom of the media and that this charter will never manage, because the broadcast process will convert from inside the Arab countries to the outside region and therefore the companies will escape.
Rights group attacks Arab media charter On the other hand, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) stated that new Arab "charter" to coordinate media control is an attempt by autocratic governments to squash already limited freedom.
In a statement Joyel Saimon, the executive manager of the CPJ, stated that this is "an unacceptable step for the side of autocratic regimes to deny the access of the audience to the small portion of freedom existing in the private TV channels". The New York- Based committee stated "the Arab governments should immediately disclaim this shameful charter and stick to the international standards of expression freedom".