Doha Centre for Media Freedom calls for legal reforms
Here is the actual statement that is up on their website:
The Doha Centre for Media Freedom calls on Qatar’s government to amend the country’s press law. “The National Human Rights Day (November 11) should be the occasion to make a few suggestions as to how the country’s much-lauded press freedom might be expanded,” it said.
Days that commemorate are useful if they are not filled with big speeches far removed from reality but instead lead to change, through as detailed and honest a picture of the situation as possible. Qatar’s National Human Rights Day on November 11 can be of use to everyone if we take the opportunity to state the facts. Among the rights the Day celebrates is freedom of expression, which is the key to other human rights.
Qatar has nothing to be ashamed of in this respect. It sponsored the Arab world’s first satellite TV network which gave a voice not just to those in power but to those who disagreed with them, as reflected by the station’s famous slogan of "The Opinion and the Other Opinion." This is a revolution in the region.
The presence in Qatar for the past few months of the Doha Centre for Media Freedom is another first. Until now, all international human rights organisations (and the Doha Centre is one) have been based in Western countries.
Qatar’s top leaders have also made many pledges to support freedom of expression. They took a principled stand when nearly all Arab League information ministers wanted to adopt a charter curbing the freedom of satellite TV stations to broadcast.
Qatar has many virtues in a region where countless regimes abuse press freedom and attack journalists. This does not mean, of course, that it has no press freedom problems. Nearly all journalists in Qatar would agree there is self-censorship and that cultural tradition favours consensus over inconvenient truths. So National Human Rights Day should be the occasion to make a few suggestions as to how the country’s much-lauded press freedom might be expanded. We will make just two.
Qatar has so far not signed or ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which would commit it to respect human rights, the key to human dignity. This gap should be filled and a new face shown to the world. It would be a strong signal to all victims, here and elsewhere, of ill-treatment and abuses.
The Press and Publications Law could also be amended. It is nearly 30 years old (1979) and does not take account of new technology such as satellite TV or the revolution of the Internet. It also contains many prohibitions and gives the authorities excessive powers that contradict the freedom enjoyed today by the country’s broadcast media.
The government ended media censorship in 1995, so the law is outdated and unworthy of a modern country. Many people agree, including government officials, and changes are afoot. A new law needs to be drafted quickly, in time for Qatar’s hosting of the 19th World Press Freedom Day on 3 May next year, the first time an Arab country has staged this prestigious event and proof that UNESCO, which sponsors the Day, is aware of Qatar’s unique role in advancing press freedom. So the occasion should be used to once more give an example to others by amending the press law.
But this will not change the quality of news if journalists themselves (as long as they are allowed to organise and have their own professional bodies) do not take the initiative. This means simply doing their job, reporting accurately, investigating, and looking at both what is working and not working in Qatar. In their search for the truth, they can rely on the Doha Centre for Media Freedom to support them. Not just out of professional solidarity but because we think this is the best way to help Qatar and its leaders and people and because we believe the authorities are sincere in their promises that we can work in complete freedom. As we are already doing each day by exposing attacks on media freedom around the world and helping the victims of it by giving them shelter and assistance here in Qatar.
We want to thank those who have allowed us to set up the Doha Centre for Media Freedom and to operate freely and independently.
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