QATAR: Al Jazeera slams new media rules

New code of conduct for TV channels in Arab states is intended to curb satellite television talk

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Riyadh --- The Al Jazeera TV channel has criticised the code of conduct for TV channels adopted by Arab states to govern satellite broadcasting, saying it could shackle freedom of expression.

A meeting of Arab information ministers in Cairo earlier this week adopted new rules, which many said meant to rein in satellite television talk.

The "Charter of Principles" prohibits criticism of Arab leaders and religious figures, asking the media not to harm peace, national unity and public morals. It demands "adherence to objectivity, sincerity and respect to the dignity of the countries, nations and their national sovereignty".

The new rules allow countries to suspend, terminate or refuse to renew the licences of TV network offices that violate them. All members of the 22-member Arab League voted in favour of the document, with only Qatar which hosts Al-Jazeera and Lebanon opposing.

In a response released on Friday, Wadah Khanfar, director-general of Al-Jazeera TV channel said: "Any code of ethics or governance for journalistic practices should emerge, and be governed, from within the profession and not be imposed externally by political institutions. "Al Jazeera considers the adoption of the charter ... a risk to freedom of expression in the Arab world."

Al-Jazeera argued: "Some of the language contained within the charter is ambiguous and could be interpreted to actively hinder independent reporting from the region."