In light of the Palestinian reconciliation, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) preferably focused on media freedoms through organizing a panel discussion titled as, “The Future of Media Freedoms in light of National Reconciliation”. The panel discussion was attended by experts, decision-makers, journalists, politicians, civil society representatives, academics and new media activists. The meeting was held on 02 November 2017 in the Lighthouse Hall in Gaza City. The meeting concluded with several results and recommendations. The most important of which was the need to include journalists in the reconciliation, ensuring the creation of a proper legal and political environment to unleash press freedoms, including the amendment of laws, correction of policies, and the need to unify the Journalists Syndicate to confront the risks and challenges facing journalists and media activists in the next stage.
The participants presented interventions about the reality and expectations regarding the media freedoms. The meeting began with reviewing the two main themes of discussion: 1. the prominent obstacles facing journalists and media activists that prevent having free press that could practice its monitoring role; and 2. What we need for building better media and free press to play its role as a fourth authority capable of engaging in the social and cultural problems, to put forward facts, reveal corruption and raise awareness.
The participants also addressed the status of press freedom and violations against journalists in addition to the bad situation of media freedoms in view of the division. They also talked about the importance of getting rid of the division’s outcomes and policies and unleashing media freedoms in the next stage. Furthermore, the participants stressed the important role of freedom of opinion and expression in supporting democracy, freedoms and rights in general, emphasizing the Journalists Syndicate’s role in promoting and guaranteeing freedom of information. They also stressed the role of the Journalists Syndicate in promoting and guaranteeing freedom of media.
Some participants emphasized the importance to unify the Syndicate and hold elections based on transparency and inclusiveness to guarantee the participation of all parties on an equal basis. The attendance talked about the importance to develop the Syndicate and its means so it would be the guaranty for the protection of press freedoms. The attendance also stressed the need for the Syndicate to enjoy independence when confronting the public authorities.
The discussion extensively addressed the need to amend the legal system related to the freedom of media, including amending the Press and Publications’ Law of 1995 and cancelling all the laws and decisions related to the freedom of press issued in light of the division. The attendance emphasized the importance to work on adopting the law of the right to information access. Moreover, the attendance highlighted the need to cancel the Cybercrimes Law considered as the worst law, which imposed exaggerated and serious restrictions on the media freedoms. The participants agreed on prioritize the cancellation of this law in the file of unleashing rights and freedoms, which is scheduled in the Palestinian reconciliation’s agenda.
The participants emphasized that media institutions should cooperate and form a lobby to practice pressure on the authority to respect the rights and public freedoms and the freedom of press, including the freedom of expression on social media, which has become the main target of the authorities.
The participants focused on the political participation of youth by practicing the freedom of expression, especially through the social media. During the discussion, the young participants displayed an overview of the impact of the division on the youth’s role in political participation through the freedom of expression and how their role undermined as a result of the self-control policy practiced by the two parties to the division during the Palestinian division. Furthermore, the young attendees called for necessarily involving them in the plans for a better media future and enabling them to practice the freedom of expression with different means without restrictions.
Results of the Panel Discussion:
- Journalists have been in the eye of the storm during the division and so far bear its consequences even though they were subject to ongoing violations by both parties to the division.
- Treatment of the past vestiges takes time and needs political will to reform what the division has destroyed during the last ten years.
- The Cybercrimes Law is considered the worst outcome of the internal division stage in the context of press and media freedoms.
- The ,Intentional or unintentional, exclusion of youth from the plans and projects conducted by the media institutions, and absence of a vision on how to deal with these young people to benefit from their energy and potentials.
- Although the implementation of the reconciliation steps has started, the authority has not yet taken any steps to unleash the public freedoms, particularly the press freedoms.
- The greatest danger facing the press freedoms is absence of the right to information access.
- According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has international obligations to respect the freedom of opinion and expression that was not respected by the PA either through not amending the legal system on freedoms in light of this obligation or through the repressive practices against the press freedom on the ground or even through enacting new laws in an explicit violation of these obligations.
- The National Unity Government should prioritize the press freedoms, unleash the media freedoms and reopen the media institutions, which were closed due to the division.
- The legal system on media freedoms should be reformed, including but not limited to:
- All laws violating freedoms and issued during the division shall be abolished, particularly the amendments to the Penal Code by the Change and Reform Bloc the Gaza Strip and the Cybercrimes Decree issued by the Palestinian President in the West Bank.
- The Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), if convened, should issue a law that guarantees and regulates the right to information access to ensure transparency conform to the PA’s binding international standards.
- The Press and Publications Law should be amended in accordance with the PA’s binding international standards.
- The civil Society shall form a lobby to practice pressure on the authorities to promote press and media freedoms.
- Young people should be involved in the media institutions’ plans and engaged in the projects and programs carried out by the human rights and civil society organizations.
- Journalists and media institutions shall cooperate to ensure that efforts would focus on the syndicate and to call for holding free and democratic syndicate elections on professional grounds.
It should be mentioned that this panel discussion is part of the campaign carried out by PCHR within its regular efforts to support the press freedom and funded by the Canadian Government within a project conducted by PCHR to protect the freedom of journalists and media activists.