Manama: Kuwait is mulling amending its press and publication law and audio-visual law to mete out harsher punishment in a bid to deter the local media from targeting national unity.
Suggestions on amending both laws, made in coordination with the fatwa and legislation directorate, include prison term of up to two years and fines up to KD200,000 ($700,000) for broadcasters and publishers for airing programmes or printing material that contains blasphemy, attacks on the Amir or undermining national unity or social cohesion.
Current punitive actions have a ceiling of up to one year in prison and up to a KD20,000 ($70,000) fine.
The amendments were suggested following the tempest sparked by the airing eight days ago of a programme on Al Sour, a private channel owned by a former parliament candidate Mohammad Al Jouwaihal, denigrating tribesmen and casting doubts over their loyalty.
Thousands of disgruntled tribesmen, led by several MPs, staged rallies to denounce Al Jouwaihal and his channel and to threaten to grill the prime ministers and the interior and information ministers.
The government assured the people of their zero-tolerance towards moves to dirupt social cohesion, took Al Sour off their air and on Thursday arrested Al Jouwaihal upon his return from Cairo where he reportedly negotiated using a satellite to broadcast two channels.
However, the arrest at the airport and the media fanfare in reporting it led Jassem Al Kharafi, the parliament speaker who has condemned the broadcasting of the controversial programme, to call for calm and for the respect of people’s dignity and rights.
Reactions to Al Kharafi’s call did not ease the standoff and MPs were deeply divided over its merit, raising the spectre of damaging political fracas that has repeatedly haunted Kuwait in the last few weeks.
Al Jouwaihal’s fate is likely to be decided on Sunday amid concerns that, regardless of the outcome, social tension, dominated by high emotions, will not be alleviated.
Should Al Jouwaihal’s plan to broadcast two channels from another country, Kuwait will have no jurisdiction over their content.
“The amendments will not have a direct effect on the stations broadcasting from countries other than Kuwait since there is no legal text that can be used against their owners,” unnamed sources told Kuwaiti daily Al Jareeda.
“However, we can use our privileged relations with other countries to help put an end to attempts to erode our national unity or divide the nation,” the sources said.