Press Law will be born soon!

On 23 February 2009, and after a long wait, Parliament discussed the bill of the Press law. There have been delays in the discussion of the bill in recent years, which have triggered debates both inside and outside Bahrain. The outcome of the discussions and the nature of the law itself remain unknown. Bahraini journalists generally are dissatisfied with the current 2002 Press Law, which was under constant scrutiny by international human rights organizations. So, will the new amended law satisfy all the parties? And will this law meet the standards set for public freedoms?

Both the Government and the Shura Council presented different versions of this bill; the latter was welcomed by the Bahraini Journalists’ Association (BJA), MPs and the Bahraini media in general. The bill was also welcomed by several Arab and international organizations concerned with freedom of expression. The debates between the Government and Parliament over the bill will decide the future of the Press Law. It is evident that the debate has moved to the Bahraini street and advocacy groups started to move in different directions. The BJA and civil society institutions have tried to influence both the Legislative and Executive authorities in order to enact a law that promotes freedoms in Bahrain. Thus, as soon as the beginning of the discussion on the new law was announced, journalists quickly met the President of the House of Representatives. Then, on 13 February 2010, the BJA issued a statement calling on all its members to gather in front of the Parliament to demand the ratification of a developed and enlightened Press Law. The BJA also expressed its regret that some members of the ‘Parliamentary Service Committee’ wished to connect the Press law with the Penal Code. The BJA stressed that ‘detention of journalists clearly goes against democracy, the whole journalistic body and the attitude of the leadership which has called for the omission of detention as a punishments against journalists’.

Due to mounting pressure on the Service Committee, it decided to remove its proposal regarding the detention of journalists but kept the financial penalty if a journalist ‘participates in publishing material that incites killing, stealing or arson, even if the incitement does not result in a crime’. The Committee adopted the version of the bill presented by the Shura Council as an original bill and dealt with the Government proposal as an amendment to the original bill, which was contrary to the wish of the Government.

The member in the Shura Council Ibrahim Al Bashmi was interviewed about the Press Law and the atmosphere surrounding its discussion. Al Bashmi described the law that the House of Representatives attempts to create as a deformed law. He also criticized the Government for failing to convey its message to international organizations. In addition, he also criticized international organizations for ‘their reliance on political figures that do not work under a legitimate political umbrella and only reflect their own one-sided view’. Al Bashmi also believes that’ the freedom of expression, which is currently available in Bahrain, places it in an advance position when compared to many Arab and Gulf States’.

On 23 February 2010, during the first meeting to discuss the bill, MPs tried to grind out their differences. 24 MPs supported a modern and developed legislation which would satisfy the aspiration of journalists and the public opinion. MP Adel Al Moawda said that: ‘we are for increasing the margin of freedom of expression’ and MP Abdul Jaleel Khaleel stated that: ’we support an enlightened Press Law and we need frank opinions from journalists. We also do not support those who swear, we need honesty, we are surprised that a journalist can be taken to court for trivial matters’. In addition, MP Khalil Al Morzooq stressed that ‘the Executive Authority should not dominate the media’. MP Abdulrahman also said: ‘we reject the detention of journalists’, while MP Jawad Fayruz demanded that ‘the media and journalists’ rights be protected’. Also, MP Latifa Al qo’od advised the parliamentary Committee which was studying the Law ‘to benefit from the opinions of international organizations. We are not happy to see journalists being dragged to courts, because they expressed their opinions’.

Moreover, MP Sayed Jameel Kazim described the ideal press as the ‘one which uncovers corruption. We support free and responsible journalism which does not live off on sectarianism’. MP Salah Ali pointed to the fact that ‘the press has uncovered many issues and information, which were hidden from MPs, some of which led to the establishment of parliamentary inquiry committees, and the Council discovered later on that the information was true’. MP Essa Abu Al Fatih supported the idea that there can be ‘no reform project without freedom of expression, we must have a law that supports the press ’. Also, MP Abdulrahman Bu Majeed said that ‘we need to put into place some limitations, but we reject the detention of journalists’. MP Mohammed Jameel Al Jamri added that ‘people cannot interact with their representatives without using the press, any calls for the limitation of freedoms under any excuse will suffocate the democratic atmosphere’. Finally MP Sayed Abdualla Al Aali believes that ‘If the freedom of the press does not increase, the means of accountability and real supervision will not develop’. These were some of the opinions held at the eve of the discussion of the bill. It reflects the positive atmosphere which was filled with wise opinions and great expectations. We hope this will result in the ratification of the Press Law very soon.