Manama: Bahrain’s draft media law that covers print, visual, audio and online media, does not allow investigating a journalist, columnist, editor-in-chief, editor or the responsible director, unless the Ministry of Information and the concerned professional association are notified and their representatives are present.

The bill also states that no journalist should be held in custody in any case.

The draft, expected to be referred to the parliament for debate by the end of the month, guarantees the right of journalists and media professionals to exercise their duties freely, safely, independently and impartially, insures their rights to information and prohibits their arbitrary dismissal or being held in custody, said Information Minister Ali Al Romaihi.

The bill stipulates the freedom to issue newspapers, online news and publications by companies fully owned by at least five Bahrainis and registered in accordance with the commercial company laws.

It ensures that journalists, media professionals, and correspondents of newspapers, news agencies and foreign media are allowed to work freely, impartially and independently, after obtaining a license to practice from the Ministry of Information.

Al Romaihi who has been pushing for the adoption of a new law was responding to a query by the parliament Speaker about the status of the press law draft.

“The new law will reinforce the freedom of responsible media based on the provisions of the Kingdom’s constitution and Arab and international human rights conventions,” Al Romaihi said.

He stressed that the law guarantees the right of journalists to express their opinions and publish information, without prejudice to himself or being forced to reveal their sources of information, unless a court rules that concealment constitutes a threat to public order or public interest.

The minister added that the bill guarantees the right of the journalists and the media to obtain from their sources information, statistics and news that can be published in accordance with the law.

They also have the right to attend conferences, meetings and public gatherings in accordance with the regulations.

All official and private bodies should provide available information, news and statistics to journalists within an equal opportunity approach to the various media that does not affect the right of the people to information and knowledge, the draft said.

Under the draft law, the media have the freedom to report and cover cases being investigated or put on trial, without affecting the course of justice or intruding on privacy.

The draft allows the Public Prosecution exclusively to investigate and prosecute publication offences as stipulated by the law.

The court, during the investigation or trial, and at the request of the Public Prosecution, may order the suspension of a publication or the shutting down of an online site in case there is evidence it broke the law.

Bahrain’s current press law was promulgated in 2002. However, several attempts have been made to amend it to bring it more in line with the developments in the country.

King Hamad Bin Eisa Al Khalifa has often called for the adoption of a progressive press law to supplant the 2002 law.

Endeavours to improve living standards and bolster the national economy “must be accompanied by progressive laws that guarantee the independence of the press and the freedom of honest and responsible expression,” King Hamad said in an address to the parliament.

“We consider the media the guarantor of democracy and we regard independent media as our partner in the nation-building process,” he said.

Despite heavy lobbying by the Bahrain Journalists Association (BJA) for a new law, the lower chamber of the bicameral parliament has consistently hesitated to amend the existing law, mainly as Islamist MPs have refused to “extend privileges to the members of the media” and insisted on including a clause to imprison journalists.