Flourishing Press amid Unsuitable Press Law
The Annual Report of Reporters without Borders for 2010 stated
that: “the opening up of the political landscape, driven since 2002
by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, was coupled with a similar expansion
in the press field.”
The report concentrated on Law No.47 of the Press Law, which
was issued in 2002. The report began by criticizing this Law because
it “did not take into account most of the recommendations from within
the profession, which was consulted on the reforms, it gave new
vigour to the written press.” The Paris based international organization
pointed to what it called “Streamlining of the process of launching
new publications provided a significant boost to the number of daily
newspapers in circulation.” The report also stated that “articles
in the law that had allowed journalists to be imprisoned were abolished.
However, journalists can still be tried under criminal law and they
generally submit themselves to regular and rigorous self-censorship.”
The report also highlighted the prohibitions in Law 47, which
include “attack on the regime, the official state religion, morals
or different confessions leading to a breach of the peace”. It added
that Law 47 empowers the Culture and Information Ministry to close
any publication or website. The report added that: “Editors of newspapers,
as a result, find themselves under relentless political pressure”.
However, the report did not provide any explanation or elaborate
on this point.
The report also said “Since it was approved in 2002, many attempts
have been made to reform the publications law, but the Government
only put forward its own amendments to the National Assembly in
June 2008 and they still have not been debated”.
The report described the privately owned written press as flourishing,
despite this fact “the State has kept a monopoly on the broadcast
sector.” It also mentioned that almost 99% of the population owns
a satellite dish.
The second part of the report covers the margin of freedom in
the country, “the Internet gives the Kingdom’s journalists a highly
valued space for freedom of expression. But this space is now being
brought much more under official surveillance and control.” Also,
the telecommunication company “censors pages that incite violence,
national discord, and of pornographic nature. In practice, many
websites run by national or international non-government organisations
are inaccessible.” It also criticised the Information Ministry for
its “memo to Internet access providers, instructing them to censor
websites that appeared on the Government’s blacklist. Since then,
some websites that allow users to get around online censorship have
also become inaccessible. This means that Internet users cannot
go onto pages of some groups on the social networking site Facebook,
seen as critical of the Government, along with 66 other websites
dealing with subjects relating to human rights or politics.”
The report of Reporters without Borders for this year is well
balanced, in tune with reality and concise. There is nothing new
to say about freedom of expression and press restrictions in Bahrain.
All the problems are rooted in Law No. 47 of the Press Law, which
is in dire need of amendment, and the controversy regarding the
nature of websites that are censored. The closure of websites that
promote pornography and incite hatred is understandable, but what
is not acceptable is the closure of websites belonging to registered
political societies, which follow the Government guidelines, even
though their rhetoric contains harsh criticism directed at the Government.
Bahrain’s ranking in press freedom has declined from 119 in 2009
to 144 out of 178 in 2010. This is due to the wide criticism directed
at the record of Bahrain related to press freedom.