Bahrain’s Ministry of Silly Laws

One of the funniest comedy sketches shown on British television featured the Ministry of Silly Walks — an imaginary government department whose task was to encourage silly ways of walking and provide funding for their development.

I was reminded of this yesterday when Bahrain’s information minister issued Edict 68/2016 about “regulating newspapers’ use of electronic media to disseminate news”. Before his appointment as minister, Ali bin Mohammed al-Rumaihi spent several years studying in Britain and I fear he may have watched the Silly Walks sketch without realising it was a joke.

Edict 68/2016 is a classic example of real-life bureaucratic absurdity. Newspapers in Bahrain already need a government licence in order to publish but from now on they will need two government licences: one for printing the paper and another for publishing online.

The new online licences last for only a year, so they will have to be renewed annually with the Mass Media Directorate which, according to the edict, needs up to 60 days to scrutinise applications.

Having obtained a second licence, newspapers will then be allowed to post “audio-visual clips not exceeding 120 seconds”. This arbitrary time limit is difficult to explain except as a job creation project for officials charged with enforcing it.

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Officials will also be kept busy checking the content of videos, since Edict 68/2016 says online material must be “part” of the newspaper’s printed content or “a reflection of it”, and covering the same topic.

That is in addition to complying with Bahrain’s much-criticised 2002 Media Law and Edict 1/2015 on media content standards.

Live-streaming is also forbidden, though it’s unclear whether streaming with a few seconds’ delay would still count as live. The intention, presumably, is to prevent people watching Bahrain’s frequent street protests as they happen.

Information minister Rumaihi has an MA in Business Administration Philosophy from Nottingham University and an MA in Administration and Information Technology from Leicester University in Britain.

He has previously held several government posts which led to the King Hamad awarding him the Order of Competence (First Class).

Originally published at al-bab.com.

Former Middle East editor of the Guardian. Website: www.al-bab.com. Author of 'Arabs Without God'.

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