DOHA: A two-day symposium kicks off in Manama today where media persons and experts from the GCC region would likely argue and counter-argue if free media is a threat to national security.
A highlight would be that the two sides would put their arguments in the presence of information ministers from the member states.
The symposium is being held on the sidelines of the 21st meeting of GCC information ministers.
While some media persons from the region say the idea of holding such a forum is irrelevant because some GCC states do not have updated media laws, there are others who think the event presents an opportunity to debate the issue of media freedom in the GCC region threadbare.
Some sceptics say they look at the symposium as a move to restrict media freedom in the name of national security, while there are others who believe media freedom is being misused by sections of media organisations to serve their own end.
“The very tone (of the seminar organisers) doesn’t leave me happy. I do not favour imposing restrictions on the media,” Qatari columnist Faisal Al Marzouqi reacted to reports of the event.
“The symposium is a good idea but linking the media to national security issues is annoying.
“Why should media persons and experts as well as information ministers talk about national security? There are other agencies responsible for that,” he said.
Al Marzouqi said he could not imagine the same issue being discussed by information ministers from Europe.
“After the Arab Spring there is some media freedom in the GCC countries, but exploiting the media for political reasons is not a good idea.”
But celebrated Qatari author and journalist, Dr Ahmed Abdul Malik, said the role of the media in the GCC states needed to be discussed openly since some media organisations were exploiting the freedom and breaching the code of ethics.
“These media organisations are pushing one viewpoint and do not show any respect for the opposing view. They are making the region feel threatened,” Malik said in remarks to this newspaper.
“The role of the media in each GCC country should be to help maintain social stability as well as security, and not threaten them.”
“You can see what is happening in Syria, Yemen and Tunisia, for instance. Using media freedom without responsibility can have an adverse impact.”
He said the good thing about the Bahrain event was that all the four key sessions to be held on the two days would feature participants representing both viewpoints — those favouring media freedom in totality, and those opposed to the idea and favouring restricted freedom in the sense that the media must play a role in helping social stability and security.
Malik said the symposium was a good opportunity to listen to both viewpoints and said he didn’t believe it would end up imposing restrictions on media freedom in the region.
Talking about a uniform media law for the GCC states, Malik said such a legislation was a utopian idea and impossible due to the different needs and situations of member-states.
“There was such a proposal and I headed a forum in GCC states for six years that debated the proposal. Initially, the idea was approved by the information ministers and leaders of the GCC states but it was eventually shelved.”
The two-day Bahrain event is being held by Manama-based Information Affairs Authority, and some 150 media persons, experts and educationists from the region would discuss the impact of media in the region on national security.
Taking advantage of technological developments, some sections of the media were inciting sectarian passions, encouraging violence and spreading lies and rumours, the event organisers said.
They were referring to online and social media and said there was a need for balance.
Famous journalists from the region, like Jamal Khashoggi from Saudi Arabia, Ahmed Al Fahad from Kuwait, Mohamed Al Hammadi from the UAE, and Anwar Abdul Raheem from Bahrain, will be among the speakers.