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ARAB SATELLITE CHARTER MAJOR SETBACK TO PRESS FREEDOM IN REGION, SAY IFEX MEMBERS

A new Arab "charter" for satellite TV will restrict independent news and information for people across the Middle East and North Africa, say the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRInfo), ARTICLE 19 and other IFEX members and partners.

"Principles for Organising Satellite TV in the Arab World", a non-binding charter, was adopted last week by all member states of the Arab League with the exception of Qatar and Lebanon. It requires satellite TV broadcasting not to offend leaders in the Arab world, damage "social peace and national unity and public order," or call into question God or the monotheistic religions.

Programmes should also conform to the religious and ethical values of Arab society, and protect Arab identity from the harmful effects of globalisation.

The charter urges member states to introduce all necessary measures in their national legislations to ensure that the document's principles are fully implemented. And if media groups do not adhere to the principles, they can have their licences suspended, withdrawn or not renewed, and even have their equipment confiscated, say the IFEX members.

"The provisions, if implemented, will inevitably mute and hinder the only avenue for free expression in the region: satellite TV," says ARTICLE 19, pointing out that they directly contradict international and regional covenants that guarantee the right to information and freedom of expression, including Article 32 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights.

The meeting was convened in Cairo on 12 February by information ministers from the different Arab countries, at the request of Egypt and Saudi Arabia - countries with grave press freedom situations, CIHRS and HRInfo note. Lebanon was the only state to oppose the document. Qatar, home of Al Jazeera, abstained from voting.

Visit these links:
- CIHRS: http://www.cihrs.org/Default_en.aspx
- HRInfo: http://www.hrinfo.net/en/reports/2008/pr0213.shtml
- ARTICLE 19: http://tinyurl.com/37cyhj
- Committee to Protect Journalists: http://tinyurl.com/2sso36
- International Federation of Journalists: http://tinyurl.com/3d3n89
- Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA), email: madapalestine(@)yahoo(.)com
- Reporters Without Borders: http://tinyurl.com/2949md
- World Press Freedom Committee (email): freepress(@)wpfc(.)org
(19 February 2008)

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