Arab information ministers representing22 member states of the Arab League discussed the formation of a newtransnational body to monitor Arab satellite TV stations on Sunday,amidst calls from media freedom groups that the move would increasecensorship and limit journalistic freedom across the Middle East.
“The International Press Institute iswary of efforts to engage in that kind of monitoring particularlygiven the record of most, if not all, Arab Middle Eastern countrieson press freedom,” Anthony Mills, Press Freedom Manager with theInternational Press Institute, told The Media Line. “It’s anexample of states in the Arab world using the notion of security toin fact monitor and stifle independent reporting.”
“In particular not so long ago, therewere efforts to get Arab countries to sign on to a convention thatwould in effect be a pledge to make sure that broadcasters could notinsult Heads of States or attack other states’ security,” headded.
The initial proposal for atransnational media monitoring organization was launched in 2008 bythe secretary general of the Arab League, former Egyptian ForeignMinister Amr Moussa.
“The proposal is partly a response toa bill adopted last month by the US House of Representatives,” theParis-based Reporters without Borders said in a statement. “[Thebill] could result in satellite operators themselves being branded as‘terrorist entities’ if they contract their services to TVstations classified as ‘terrorist’ by the US Congress.”
According to Reporters without Bordersthe 22-member Arab league is divided into a pro and con campregarding the proposal.
On the pro side are political andeconomic heavyweights Egypt and Saudi Arabia, home to the twodominant satellite carriers NileSat and ArabSat, while on theopposing camp is Lebanon’s Hizbollah-affiliated Al-Manar, whichwould likely be scrutinized by the new organization, as wouldQatar-based Al-Jazeera. Al-Aqsa, a Hamas station broadcast from theGaza Strip and viewed as a terrorist organization by the US, alsomight be targeted.
Professor Hussein Amin, head of thedepartment of Journalism and Mass Communications at the AmericanUniversity in Cairo and one of the organizers of the ministerialmeeting, told The Media Line that the “meeting is taking placebehind closed doors.”
As yet, he said, there is “noinformation” regarding the outcome.