Journalism Must Mature and Remove its Legal and Administrative Constraints

On the 11th of April 2009, an office for the International Federation of Journalism (IFJ) was opened in Bahrain, under the patronage of the Minister of Information and Culture Sheikha Mai Al Khalifa, and with the participation of Mr. Eden White, the President of the Federation. Many important figures were among the participants including ministers, civil society organizations, presidents and representatives of Arab and international journalists’ unions in addition to the local media.

Minister Mai Al Khalifa regarded the opening of the office as a step towards promoting confidence in ‘The Kingdom’s position, as an oasis for democracy in the current atmosphere of reform, transparency, professionalism, and a free and responsible ethical sense’ and as an asset to the reform project led by the King. She added that ‘Bahrain is witnessing a period of political activism, institutionalization, openness and development’ hoping that the current heated debate on rights, customs and media ethics would be a source of enrichment and not a cause for obstruction.

The Minister stressed the importance of democratic expression and the position of the media, and said that the Ministry is striving to make both these transparent, professional and ethical, pointing to the existence of a serious attitude to solve all the problems that undermine work ethics. She also expressed her keen interest in promoting political pluralism, intellectual and information diversity and saw that freedom of the press and expression are at the heart of the reform project of His Majesty the King. She affirmed that she will personally work tirelessly for the legalization of freedom of the press as part of public freedoms which should expand, mature and remove all legal and administrative constraints. This is in order that these practices are preformed within a clear framework and that all given guarantees are based on solid foundations. The Minister also called for a collective commitment of the international conventions regarding political and civil rights, transforming them into local legislations and revising existing laws and regulations accordingly. She stressed the need to form strong partnerships in order to benefit the future of press on various levels, such as ethical and professional knowledge and re-habilitation.

Mr Nabeel Al Hamar, the King’s media advisor, pointed out, during the same occasion, that the reform project ‘has opened the doors of freedom for the Bahraini media, opinions, newspapers, and various movements and helped diversify them, which has promoted freedom and democracy’. He continued by saying: ‘thanks to the King’s democratic project, Bahrain has become an important centre for journalism and a workshop for democracy based on freedom of expression’. He stressed that ‘the opening of an office for the International Federation for Journalism comes as another step to promote the atmosphere of freedom and democracy in the country, and as a fruitful outcome of the national democratic project’.

On his part, Mr. Eden White, the Federation’s Secretary General, stressed the importance and the role of the law in expanding the margin that journalists are able to work within, pointing out that the establishment of an office in Bahrain is a new step towards achieving uniqueness in journalists’ work and improving their professionalism. He added that he will personally organize seminars, workshops, activities and conferences from Brussels in order to develop journalism in the region, saying that this necessitates a strong commitment and partnership between journalistic organizations, Government institutions and civil society organizations. In an open letter, Mr. White demanded the Bahraini Parliament to adopt a new media law, which annuls treating journalistic breaches as criminal cases, saying that ‘journalism should escape political domination and return to its original roots’.

He continued by saying that ‘the press can only achieve this through emphasizing the central role of the media and its natural position in the heart of an open society, where people are free to express their opinions, and where telling the truth is perceived as an issue which serves public interest’. Mr. White made the statement to mark the launch of the IFJ’s Program of Action to support the ethical and independent journalism in the Middle East, and with the opening of a regional office in Bahrain. The regional office will ensure the implementation of practical programs designed to remove the legal constraints against the freedom of the press as well as working towards spreading awareness regarding the crucial role played by independent and good quality press in the democratic reform process in the region. In his letter, Mr. White said that ‘the IFJ is very pleased that Bahrain is the centre for its regional campaign for ethical journalism, and we are aware that the journalistic society in Bahrain is ready to play a leading role in the creation of new examples of moral journalism in the Arab World’.