by Morgan Maxwell
While arguments regarding the right to birth control dominate media attention in America, the nation of Kuwait is experiencing a similar consideration of civil liberties. A series of suggested amendments to Kuwaiti audiovisual laws are proving to be the source of a great deal of contention. Among the proposed changes are: a one to two year penalty for any person insulting god, an increase of fines for publishing news without a license, and a KD1 million fine for damaging national unity.
The restrictions were suggested after an incident in which the chief of the Awazem tribe was allegedly criticized during a Scope TV live broadcast. Over 150 tribe members responded with an attack on the network building and damaging the network’s property. Reports also suggest that attackers attempted to burn the building down with no success. Al-Qallaf, the man responsible for the alleged statements against the chief, soon issued a formal apology for the misinterpretation of his statement and for compromising national unity. Both parties are facing prosecution and Al-Qallaf’s remarks have resulted in some measure of public outcry defending Al-Qallaf’s patriotism and dedication to Kuwait.
Despite the Scope TV incident many argue the proposed media restrictions threaten to drastically affect the range of Kuwaiti press and broadcasting. One of the most vocal opposing organizations is the Kuwait Journalists Association which has called for a boycott of responsible law makers. They feel as though the audiovisual amendments infringe on personal and press liberties afforded by the Kuwaiti constitution. Whether or not this is the case, is unclear. Article 37 of the Kuwaiti Constitution establishes freedom of the press but only within the limits specified by other law. The phrasing of article 37 allows for a great deal of interpretation and offers no concrete grounds for objections to the proposed restrictions. Additionally, both the Constitution’s preamble and Article 2 clearly outline the role of the Islamic religion in the legislative process. This would suggest that the proposed restrictions are supported rather than refuted by the Kuwaiti constitution. The issue then becomes more a matter of moral justification than legal justification.
The spirit of national pride and unity is an arguably integral part of a functioning society. Still, its importance isn’t necessarily great enough to defend infringement on civil liberties. The ability of the press to provide a fair and accurate account of current issues is just as central to the effective operation of society. Limiting broadcasts because they may upset individuals or differ from public opinion is contrary to the function of media. The laws regarding the range of media topics in Kuwait already seem to interfere with the presentation of news and increasing their scope, regardless of the justification, is not in the best interests of the nation.
This post reflects the author’s personal opinions, not the opinions of Arizona Model United Nations.