Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sabah Al-Watan TV/Kuwait will never be the same
At least, it won't be the same after my guest spot on their "Good Morning Kuwait" program.
Click here to view in English and Arabic. 

Kuwaiti journalists confront tough questions
KUWAIT CITY, KUWAIT--Is Kuwaiti press free when journalists are prohibited from criticizing the emir (king) or from attacking religions like Islam?

The discussion that followed those questions at the Arab Media Forum were among the most interesting I’ve ever had with overseas journalists.

International press NGO’s have traditionally dinged Kuwait’s media (listed as “partly free”) because, for one, direct criticism of the emir is prohibited by law. Violators have been punished and fined. The Kuwaiti journalists, while acknowledging this law, pointed out that they still consider themselves free to discuss any issue, and to indeed criticize any minister, politician, or royal family member except the emir himself, thus ensuring a robust discussion of public policy. One young lady observed that, in her view, the relationship between Kuwaitis and their emir is more social than political, and thus prohibiting criticism of him does little (or nothing) to impede public discourse.

Before this discussion, I would have strongly opposed this line of reasoning. After the discussion, I must admit that while I still don’t agree with the law, I certainly understand it. If Kuwaiti journalists feel unimpeded by the criticizing-the-emir prohibition, who am I to condemn this law?

The discussion then drifted to blasphemy laws, which most Western journalists and journalism organizations strongly oppose. Here, criticizing Islam is punishable by fines or jail time.

Though I was not surprised that the journalists supported the blasphemy law, it was still interesting to hear them defend a statute that some might say restricts their rights. The journalists said that the law merely dictates that there is a respectful media discussion of religion—a discussion that shows manners, according to one reporter. I asked several devil’s advocate questions. I wanted to know if someone who was not religious should be able to express their opinion. The journalists unanimously said yes, as long as the opinion was articulated in a respectful manner. This led to the next question: who is it that determines what respectful is, or what shows proper manners? The journalists said this is outlined in Kuwaiti law. 

I told the journalists that I am always more comfortable when media outlets and journalists decide what is and isn’t respectful instead of having these decisions made by government officials. On this important point, the journalists agreed with me.

As is characteristic of truly remarkable discussions like this one, no minds may have been changed today, but all of our minds certainly were opened.

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