Arab Media’s Role in Developing Public Awareness of the Law

Together to Develop Awareness of the Law Workshop
Arab League – Cairo
16 March 2011

When we speak about developing awareness of the law, the role of the Arab media is bound to come first in our minds. Real cultural evolution requires the kind of education that comes from disseminating information that increases awareness of the law.

I am thankful that The Egyptian Center for Developing Awareness of the Law is directed by Dr. Khalid El Kadi. He is blessed to be the spiritual son of the legal master, the late Dr. Fathi Naguib, former president of the High Constitutional Court and known for his depth of thought and bold decisions. Dr. Naguib’s own breadth of legal awareness spurred him to found the historic project that gave Egyptian women the right to divorce.

No doubt, the law is in dire need of the media to play a strong role in informing the public of their rights and how to protect those rights. The media must also help citizens know the limits to be guarded in order to protect the rights of others. Arab media professionals, as a whole, would benefit greatly from specialized training courses to increase their ability to evaluate both the legality and ethicality of what they read and write.

As a man who always considered law in the spirit of justice, I believe we are in a desperate need to redirect the practices of the Arab media towards more conscientious and honest reporting. For example, when a citizen is referred the attorney general’s office for questioning, media channels report the incident as if a conviction had already been handed down. They show zero regard for the harm they are causing to the reputation of that citizen.

So, how can we create a culture in which media professionals voluntarily uphold the sacred principle “innocent until proven guilty”?

Since 25 January, we have read articles directed at public officials that contain flagrant moral assassinations. Considering the size of the publications and the frequency of the accusations, any hope for fair trials for these individuals has been destroyed.

An aroused public manipulated by the media can spread bias among millions long before a judgment has been pronounced. This is but one of the many reasons the independence of the judiciary is crucial. This message must be made clear to those responsible for the media, especially the Arab media.

We must also shield judges from media-created public bias prior to any important trial. I say this with due respect for the independence and self-awareness of members of the judiciary.

Creating a culture of legal awareness needs balanced participation of media professionals, lawyers and judges. Lawyers, for example, must be made more aware of some basic ethical considerations and have enough professional responsibility to avoid such practices as revealing documents to the media for publication related to issues under investigation before those documents are examined by the courts.

In the history of our esteemed judicial system, there was a man I greatly respected, Judge Hassan El Hudaibi. In the late forties, I told him about a case taking place in Tanta at that time. I wanted to discuss the rumors that were circulating. I was taken aback when this man, out of professional integrity, interrupted me and asked me not to complete the story.

He said: “My information must be limited to the documents inside the dossier I am required to examine before the trial. I will not hear anything else.”

Law and justice are two sides of the same coin; law texts are rigid, whereas justice has a wider vision derived from the ethics and ideals of society.

As a student, I was attracted to the law after reading every book I could get my hands on about Omar Ibn al Khattab, one of the most powerful and influential Muslim caliphs in history. His personal qualities earned him the title Al-Faruq, “the one who distinguishes between right and wrong”. As a much-emulated role model, he was surrounded by numerous men who were shining examples of how judges could raise the banner of truth, justice and integrity.

Today’s Arab media professional must play a role based on responsibility tempered by a spirit of justice. Integrity prevents the real professional from rushing to defame another prior to conviction in a court of law.

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