DAMASCUS- A Presidential Legislative Decree at new Media law was addressed officially on Sunday which puts an end to the government's control over media, newspapers and local and foreign publications in Syria.
The draft law identifies media principles, journalists' duties and rights, licensing procedures for launching audio-visual, printed and electronic media.
The media law comes in line with other measures lately introduced by the Syrian government to achieve sweeping reforms in the country and within the reform program which was promised earlier by the President al-Assad, as it was described by officials.
Syrian state-run news agency SANA says President al- Assad authorized a new media law Sunday, requiring the government to lift most restrictions on local journalists and allow independent news organizations to operate. State-run media said that the new media law is part of President al-Assad's initiative to implement sweeping reforms in the country.
Elias Murad, head of the journalists' union, told AFP that the association "has always demanded a modern press law to give Syrian media the chance to play a comprehensive role in providing the truth and serving society."
"There is an important article in the new law that bans the imprisonment of journalists. The law gives more freedom to have access to information, and officials will be obligated to provide information," he said.
Murad said the law did not put restrictions on journalists, "excluding issues related to the nation, enemy and national unity, which is natural."
Under the new law, which was discussed by the government earlier this month, an independent national media council will be created.
"It authorises citizens to open a newspaper or television station and obliges government officials and public institutions to provide information so journalists can practice their trade, while taking national imperatives into account," Murad said.
However journalists can still face fines of up to $21,000 for defamation.
For their part, Syrian opposition activists claimed that the new media law partly liberalises repressive legislation under which journalists faced jail for, among other things, attacking "the prestige and dignity of the state, national unity and the morale of the army."
They also dismiss those changes, once key demands, as too little too late.
They have dismissed President al- Assad's previous promises of reforms as meaningless while the government crackdown continues.
Syria has been in unrest since mid-March when anti-government protests broke out in the southern province of Daraa and spread to other cities. Syria has banned foreign media and restricted local coverage, making it impossible to independently confirm events on the ground. While widespread witness accounts and amateur video footage describe a brutal crackdown by security forces, Syria's state-run news agency says security forces are the real victims of gunmen and extremists as Syrian authorities used to blame the unrest on "armed groups and foreign conspiracy," and stressed that it would track down gunmen who have intimidated the people and damaged public and private properties.
In May, Syrian Information Minister Adnan Mahmud announced the formation of a media commission including experts, journalists and academics to draft a "new comprehensive press law for print, audio and visual media."
Information Minister Adnan Mahmoud said later that the media law aims at regulating and developing media work in accordance with the comprehensive reform process in Syria.
He recently noted that the law will contribute to developing media performance in terms of the institutional structure, human cadres and media policies that focus on public matters, issues of citizens, linking media with society with all its components and presenting media content at a high professional level.
Mahmoud said the law will cancel penalties against journalists and ensure their freedom secured by the law, in addition to facilitating their access to information and securing their right of protecting their information sources.
Syria's press law promulgated 2001 gives the government sweeping control over newspapers, magazines, and other periodicals, as well as virtually anything else printed in Syria, from books to pamphlets and posters. The government has extended these restrictions to online outlets.
Protests in Syria are part of the wave of unrest across the Middle East and North Africa this year that has unseated the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia.