Containing loopholes and restricting media freedoms,
Human rights groups and media outlets call on Prime Minister not to approve the Draft Regulation on Licensing Media Institutions
- The draft regulation vests a tripartite committee, including the Ministry of Information, Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology and Ministry of Interior, excessively broad and centralised powers, contrary to the principle of media freedoms
- Approval of the draft regulation runs counter to the Palestinian Declaration of Independence and Basic Law
- The draft regulation entitles the Minister of Information to suspend any Palestinian or foreign media outlet operating in Palestine
- The draft regulation is in conflict with Article 27 of the Basic Law, which confirms freedom of the media.
Ramallah: Human rights actors and media outlets called on Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh not to approve the Draft Regulation on the Licensing of Media Institutions, which the government is in the process of passing. They called for initiating a dialogue with stakeholders, civil society organisations, human rights groups, and media institutions to agree on a body of legislation to regulate media work. Regulations will be consistent with the State of Palestine’s values enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and Amended Basic Law and sensitive to democratic values. They will uphold international obligations of the State of Palestine and contribute to building the future Palestinian State in the interest of serving the collective good.
Expressing concern about and denouncing the draft regulation, institutions were of the view that it was part of the items of legislation recently passed by the Executive branch of government. Mainly seeking to restructure the Palestinian political system, this body of legislation allows further Executive domination over commanding heights of the State and encroaches on institutions that protect democratic values and ensure the implementation of good governance principles in the Palestinian State administration. These values and principles are highlighted by the 1988 Declaration of Independence and constitutional norms set by the Amended Basic Law of 2003.
In a joint statement, institutions demanded that the Prime Minister call off the agreement on granting a licence to construct and operate a radio station. The Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology (MoTIT) is attempting to impose that station on media institutions.
Institutions highlighted that “ensuring the freedom, multiplicity, and independence of media outlets reflects respect for and protection of freedom of the press. Media freedom builds a firm basis for good governance and rule of law and promotes the principles of transparency, accountability, and participation in political, social, and cultural life.”
According to institutions, these “pieces of legislation damage the reputation of the future State of Palestine and its national project. They undermine the standing of the State of Palestine in relation to respect for human rights and values of freedom and democracy, causing a loss of international support and sympathy with the Palestinian right to self-determination in the face of the Israeli occupation. They also undermine Palestinian citizens’ confidence and dream of a modern State of Palestine, which upholds their fundamental rights and freedoms. Such legislation compromises Palestinian citizens’ willingness and aspirations of struggle for the freedom and independence of their State, which should embody their national project at this stage.” Institutions inquired about the “beneficiaries and stakeholders of such a regulation.”
Institutions indicated that the draft regulation was legally baseless. It puts forward provisions with no legislative references or authorisations, violating the principle of the hierarchy of legislation and rules of legislative drafting. The latter stress that secondary legislation passed by the Executive may not address legal provisions, which are not authorised by the Legislative Authority.
The draft regulation is also in contravention to the provisions of Article 27 of the Basic Law. This provisions emphasises that “[f]reedom of audio, visual, and written media, as well as freedom to print, publish, distribute and transmit, together with the freedom of individuals working in this field, shall be guaranteed by this Basic Law and other related laws. Censorship of the media shall be prohibited. No warning, suspension, confiscation, cancellation or restriction shall be imposed upon the media except by law, and pursuant to a judicial ruling.” Furthermore, financing resources of newspapers and all media means are subject to the scrutiny of the law, which is enacted by representatives of the people. This cannot be handled by a government regulation that entrusts the Ministry of Interior (MoI) with financial oversight. According to Article 4(3) of the draft regulation, the MoI is vested with overbroad powers that exceed those provided by effective Palestinian laws, including the Company Law and Law on Banks.
Article 18(2) of the draft regulation entitles the Minister of Information to suspend, and prohibit transactions with, any Palestinian or foreign media outlet operating in Palestine if they violate the provisions of Article 18(1), namely, the duty to respect the Palestinian identity and history and abstention from broadcasting any information material, which may jeopardise the Palestinian identity or compromise the Palestinian narrative. Notably, the terms “Palestinian identity and narrative” are unclear.
Institutions criticised the use of overbroad and loosely defined terms and expressions, which give wide discretionary powers to the tripartite committee, including the Ministry of Information, MoTIT and MoI. This would, subsequently, reduce the role of the judiciary, enable official authorities to place restrictions on media activity, and punish media institutions on moody and selective grounds. Foremost among these expressions are prohibitions imposed on media institutions and conditions to be fulfilled by the media content. These include, for example, “maintaining public order, public security, and requirements of the public interest”; “refraining from broadcasting any content that is immoral or incompatible with the values and principles of Palestinian society”; and “upholding the Palestinian identity and history and abstaining from broadcasting any information material, which may jeopardise the Palestinian identity or compromise the Palestinian narrative.”
Institutions highlighted that he draft regulation gave the tripartite committee excessively broad and centralised powers in contrariety with the principle of media freedoms, which contradict the principle of media freedoms. Restrictions and controls can only be placed on freedom of the press in consistence with internationally recognised standards and norms. For instance, the draft regulation prescribes conditions to be met by staff members of media institutions and websites. At most levels, these include the condition to obtain security clearance, prior approval of joint broadcasting between several media stations, and prior agreement of the Ministry of Information to the replacement of the manager or editor-in-chief of a media outlet. Also, all media institutions licensed in accordance with the provisions of the regulation are bound to provide the Ministry of Information with written employment contracts of the manager, editor-in-chief, and all media workers at the institution as a prerequisite for licensing.
According to institutions, despite the fact that it was used 13 times, the draft regulation did not define the concept of “no objection” certificate issued by the MoI. In line with the rules of legislative drafting, this term should have been defined under Article 1 (Definitions). In practice, the term “no objection’ is taken to mean security clearance or so-called good conduct certificate, which is issued by security agencies, namely, the Preventive Security and General Intelligence services. Testimonies and facts confirm that the issuance of this certificate is largely associated with political affiliation, contravening the principles of equality and non-discrimination enshrined in Article 9 of the Palestinian Amended Basic Law. It provides an entry point to, and constitutes a form of, political corruption in dealing with media outlets.
Institutions stated that representatives of stakeholders and human rights organisations had not been consulted when the draft regulation was prepared. According to the rules of legislative drafting approved by the Council of Ministers, representative bodies and community groups should be engaged when relevant laws are developed. Community consultations will be in place to ensure that all interests are represented within the regulation in question.
Institutions emphasised that approval of the draft regulation would run counter the Palestinian Declaration of Independence and Basic Law. It would also be in conflict with the international human rights conventions, which the State of Palestine acceded to without reservation. It would constrain functions of media institutions, curtail freedom of expression, adversely impact community safety, and exacerbate internal tensions.
Institutions called on the Council of Ministers to refer the regulation of media work to the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate, other media representatives, and human rights actors in the context of national consultations. This should produce the best formulations and templates that consolidate freedom of expression and media freedoms. Institutions further called for releasing and expediting the approval of regulations that enhance the values of transparency, democracy, and media freedoms, such as the Draft Law on the Right of Access to Information and Draft Law on the High Council of the Media.
Coalition for Accountability and Integrity (AMAN)
Independent Commission for Human Rights
Wattan Media Network
Raya Media Network
Palestinian Centre for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA)
Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH)
Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Centre
Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate
Women's Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling
Roles for Social Change Association (ADWAR)
Civil Commission for the independence of Judiciary and Rule of Law (ISTIQLAL)
Bihimmatkom Association for Youth with Disabilities
Palestinian Vision Organization
Teacher Creativity Centre
Human Rights and Democracy Media Centre (SHAMS)
QADER for Community Development
Palestinian Centre for Peace and Democracy
Rural Women’s Development Society