DAMASCUS: Syrian President Bashar Assad on Sunday issued a decree on a new media law that would ban journalists being jailed and also give them access to information, the official news agency SANA reported.
Assad "issued the legislative decree of the media law," it said, without elaborating.
The 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."
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 ply their trade, while taking national imperatives into account," Murad said.
However journalists can still face fines of up to $21,000 for defamation.
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."
Assad's move was the latest to help end anti-regime protests, which erupted in mid-March and have resulted in the deaths of more than 2,200 people, according to the United Nations.
Earlier this month, Assad issued decrees on the formation of political parties as well as general elections.