Tuesday, June 28, 2005

End it, don’t mend it

Kuwait’s new information minister has a unique approach to a job that in many countries is little more that a propaganda tool for authoritarian leaders.

“My idea for improving journalism in Kuwait is the elimination of the ministry of information,” Anas al-Rashid told editors and reporters at The Washington Times yesterday.

Mr. Rashid said he took the information ministry position in April on the condition that the government eventually close the ministry, which has the authority to regulate the print media through mandatory licenses. The press in Kuwait is independent, but many journalists practice self-censorship to avoid breaking laws against challenging the authority of the emir or criticizing Islam.

He knows what journalists face in Kuwait because he is a former deputy editor of the daily newspaper, Al Qabas.

Mr. Rashid, who studied journalism in the United States, has proposed a new libel law based on the 1964 American case of Sullivan v. the New York Times, which set a high standard for public officials to sue for monetary damages. In that case, the Supreme Court decided that journalists were not committing libel for reporting incorrect information unless they knew it was false beforehand or showed a reckless disregard for the truth.

Mr. Rashid added that the Arab media is “being reshaped” as journalists struggle for greater freedom against governments that impose severe restrictions on the news.

He also urged the United States to take advantage of this opportunity by getting its message into the Arab world.

“I hope America takes this opportunity to spread the message of democracy and freedom,” Mr. Rashid said.

He is in Washington to help prepare for the visit by Prime Minister Sheik Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, who meets President Bush on Friday.

Mr. Rashid noted the strong relationship between the two countries. Mr. Bush’s father led the 1991 liberation of Kuwait from Saddam Hussein, and Kuwait served as the base of U.S. operations in the 2003 overthrow of Saddam.

He also added that Kuwait, a constitutional monarchy, grew more democratic with the recent enfranchisement of women.

“Democracy, the longer you have it, the more you practice it, the better it becomes,” he said.

Bad Byrd

Canadian Ambassador Frank McKenna denounced a U.S. trade law against dumping as a “very, very bad piece of legislation” when he addressed American business executives in Georgia.

Mr. McKenna referred to a measure known as the “Byrd amendment,” after its sponsor, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat. The anti-dumping amendment orders the government to impose tariffs on foreign goods from countries suspected of underselling U.S. products and pay those fees to the U.S. companies that filed the trade complaints. Before the amendment, anti-dumping tariffs were paid into the general treasury.

The ambassador called the practice an “open bounty on trade.”

In a speech to the Federal Reserve Board in Atlanta this month, Mr. McKenna complained about what he sees as a growing protectionist mood in Congress.

“I know the debate about balance of trade deficits, outsourcing and cheaper imports, particularly from China, is creating an increase in protectionism in Congress,” he said.

“For example, the introduction of the Byrd amendment, which I think is a kind of an open bounty on trade. It’s a very, very bad piece of legislation, but I can understand what would motivate that kind of protectionist legislation.”

Mr. Byrd inserted the measure in an agricultural bill in 2000. While many members of Congress conceded they were unaware of the amendment when they voted for the bill, few support repealing the measure.

“There are protectionist measures present in all countries,” Mr. McKenna added. “Unfortunately, because of this, we most certainly lose some of the advantages of globalization.”

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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