A new e-publishing law in Syria is now in its final stages for approval. The law has received considerable coverage since the drafting started in early 2010. The detail of the law are yet to be cleared out, and coverage thus far has been contradictory.
The law officially aims at creating a legal framework for news websites to operate within. Online reporters and journalists will be able to join the official journalists’ syndicate, witch allows them to be issued press credentials, attend state press conferences, among other privileges. But many fear that the law will effectively restrict the marginal autonomy that news websites have enjoyed so far. More importantly, the big question is still, will this law be applied to bloggers as well?
When leading Syrian English-language magazine, Syria Today, reported on the draft law in May 2010, it mentioned nothing about enforcing the law on bloggers, and suggested that the procedure will be completely optional.
Details of what the online media law will contain are not known, but some early indications suggest it will entail a voluntary system of registration with the Ministry of Information, by which sites can choose to be officially recognised. Another clause proposed is that sites nominate someone who is ultimately responsible for content.
While the New York Times’ coverage suggests that bloggers should be just as concerned with the law.
But that slim margin is threatened by an ever present fog of fear and intimidation, and some journalists fear that it could soon be snuffed out. A draft law regulating online media would clamp down on Syrian bloggers and other journalists, forcing them to register as syndicate members and submit their writing for review.
Even before a dedicated law existed, a number of Syrian bloggers and online journalists have already suffered jail terms and prolonged incarceration because of materials they published online. And it is not clear how the new law will alter the online media scene in Syria. Questions also persist as to the effectiveness, and the government’s ability to actually implement such a law, especially considering the nature of blogging and the fact that many bloggers who might be affected by the restrictions already blog anonymously.