Saturday, 6 April 2013

Experts fine-tune new Sudanese media law

IHSAN YOUSSEF

DOHA A TWO-DAY workshop on the draft Sudanese media law organised by the Doha Centre for Media Freedom (DCMF) brought together academics, government representatives and journalists to discuss the legal implications of the new proposals and make recommendations.

The workshop concluded on Friday.

The meet was moderated by Egyptian academic and legal expert, Nijad Bari, and the chair of the Sudanese Parliamentary Media Committee, Afaf Tawer.

Other participants included Hisham Jaz from the Sudanese embassy in Qatar and Jordanian lawyer, Mohamed Kteishat, as well as a number of locally-based Sudanese journalists.

Aimed at encouraging debate and discussion of the draft law, the meeting aimed to ensure that the bill would meet international standards of press freedom.

The workshop also tried to ensure that the new law conformed to Article 39 of the Sudanese constitution which stipulates that the new law must be similar to media laws in other democratic countries.

It focused on four important questions. First, it asked why a press and publications law was needed in Sudan? This focused on the flaws of the previous media law in Sudan, which had been described by journalists as the ‘worst media law ever.’ Participants also discussed the impact of the Arab Spring and the cessation of South Sudan on press freedom in Sudan.

Secondly, the participants discussed whether the law met fundamental standards of press freedom, and whether it would enable journalists to carry out their work freely and safely.

The experts then addressed the issue of balancing the need for and the right to access information, with the restrictions and punishments journalists might face for failing to carry out their work responsibly.

Finally, the participants examined the role of the National Council of Press and Publication in implementing the new law and how to ensure its independence and effectiveness in defending media freedom in Sudan.

The meeting came up with some recommendations. It agreed that there was need to amend punishments and national security laws which allow security authorities to ban publications and confiscate newspapers.

Since these powers are not in line with the draft law, they cannot be considered without reference to the entire legal structure of Sudan, the participants argued.

They noted that there was need to add legal articles that reinforce Sudanese journalists’ easy access to information instead of the vague article in the draft law.

Participants in the workshop agreed to add more articles that detail how journalists could ask for information and the period of time they would wait to receive administrative authorities’ reply, as well as the court of appeal they can move if their request is not met.

They recommended redrafting articles related to the rights and duties of journalists to make them more precise, scrapping equivocal articles as well as adding an article which bans endangering journalists’ personal and economic security because of their opinions.

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