Based on the Palestinian Declaration of Independence and the Palestinian Basic Law, every citizen has the right to freedom of expression, emphasizing that this freedom may not be used for distortion purposes.
Written by: Abdel Ghani Salameh
Based on the Palestinian Declaration of Independence and the Palestinian Basic Law, every citizen has the right to freedom of expression, emphasizing that this freedom may not be used for distortion purposes. The problem arises when the citizen thinks that freedom of expression is absolute or when the authority restricts freedom of expression under the pretext of “threatening civil peace.” In fact, there are many problems when dealing with freedom of expression, as it is a complicated matter. These problems relate to two aspects: the citizen and the authority. For example, freedom of expression may include criticism. Usually, some believe that criticism is only directed at the other, while disregarding self-criticism, which is when an individual confronts himself/herself along with his/her thoughts and actions and admits his/her mistakes with courage and honesty. The issue is that the individual neither evaluates himself/herself objectively nor accepts criticism from others. Additionally, the second problem of expression and criticism, regarding their forms and methods, is that they turn into insults, defamation and accusations. Therefore, criticism in the Arab mentality is associated with distortion, and is an attempt to undermine the other side, which led to its absence.
Another prominent issue is when criticism is exaggerated, such as against the authority or in praise and flattery, both of which obscure the vision of the truth, and neither of them provide objective and honest criticism. For this reason, many honest voices disappear, fearing that they will be accused of hypocrisy if they want to praise a good phenomenon or decision. We find the absence of objectivity and relativism in criticism, where we take a position of support or absolute hostility towards a person, party or political system, either completely demonizing it, or placing it in the highest of ranks. Even objective critics often find it difficult to let go of their preconceived opinions or intellectual biases.
We also find confusion between criticism of an idea, practice or situation and of the person himself/herself, allowing emotions to become the main player (i.e., hate or love). This turns the criticism into a personal attack and/or an accusation of treason, or that criticism is exercised from the logic of superiority, purification and/or sarcasm without offering solutions or suggesting alternatives. Thus, we make a mistake in diagnosing where the error lies, deviate from the functional role of criticism and engage in personal and verbal disputes. We then find ourselves in a critical situation when the same person changes his/her stance or opinions, where we become allies, forgetting that we accused him/her of treason!
Criticism is a rational practice, of which its function is to uncover the sources of error, avoid falling into it, correct the path and develop performance. Criticism is also necessary for renewal and permanence, and a prerequisite for advancement and progress. The more criticism is free from sanctification, absolutism, personalization and prejudices, the better it achieves its goal.
In recent years, the security services in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have summoned many activists, based on their political views, where they were arrested and interrogated for a long time, sometimes for periods exceeding weeks. It is often because they are accused of endangering national security, inciting sectarian strife or slandering those with high positions! The problem regarding those who hold the highest of positions is in the way they are glorified and looked at as extraordinary individuals.
Preserving civil peace is not by suppressing peaceful demonstrations in a cruel and degrading manner, under the pretexts of threatening civil peace or working for foreign agendas, for this is the argument of repressive governments. According to the 2020 annual report of the NGO, “Reporters Without Borders,” the National Authority has maintained its position, the same as in 2019, amongst the countries that violate freedom of the press and freedom of opinion, ranked 137 out of 180 countries.
In Ramallah, the Magistrate’s Court decided to close 59 online press websites, which sparked a wave of condemnation, most notably the government’s statement, which called for a reversal of the decision. The Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate considered the decision a violation of freedom of opinion and expression. Those who supported the decision said that it was to protect civil peace, and that freedom of the press does not mean there should be websites without restrictions or approval from the competent authorities, because this may mean receiving external funding, or supporting suspicious political and cultural trends, especially in light of the parties’ extensions and their regional connections. These are good arguments, but civil peace should be fortified first by looking at the causes of its fragility, addressing them and then presenting a media discourse in a modern and attractive way that respects people’s thoughts and beliefs.
As for dealing with fake news, rumors and smear campaigns, it is not through censorship, but rather through transparency, good media performance, frankness with the public and the enactment of the law on the right to access information. The government should be aware that silencing the public always leads to adverse reactions. All totalitarian regimes in the world were imposing strict control over the media, preventing openness, imposing their policies on citizens through biased media, with revolutionary slogans and ready-made phrases, and accusing those who disagree with suspicious agendas. Despite all this, people were rising and governments were falling.
Today, with the information technology revolution, there is no longer any opportunity to censor and/or direct people’s consciousness, and governments are unable to control citizens’ choices. If any government has a media apparatus, others have more than the government’s capabilities with more attractive and polarising elements. Regarding third world countries, their governments were convinced of the futility of any attempt to block websites or prevent the flow of information, news and images. All attempts to exclude those who oppose and silence their voices along with authoritarian repression have been unsuccessful. In most cases, these measures were turned against governments, and a quick look at the Arab Spring is enough to understand the picture.