It’s time of the year for Worldwide Press Freedom Index 2007. With all my reservations regarding Reporters Without Borders neutrality (having doubt after knowing that France is their financial supporter, although they are an NGO!), yet, their report was always a good indicator, if not the closest to reality – at least from my experiences as a blogger from the Middle East with all the sorrow and sad stories that I went through and heard of – when it comes to measure the freedom of speech in general and freedom of press in particular.
Every now and then we hear about new rules and regulations around the Arab World that makes it harder for press to speak the ‘truth’. Not to mention the censorship applied in many Arab countries such as – but not limited to – United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Syria, etc… worst is to know that this list is getting bigger day by day, but with different terms and means such as the official watchdogs of local authorities to monitor and nail bloggers and detain them, e.g. Egypt cases.
Having said the above, lets look on how do ‘Arab States’ stand this year, but before this, let’s note the leading paragraph of the report:
Bloggers now threatened as much as journalists in traditional media
Doesn’t sound good news at all… following that by few paragraphs,
Outside Europe – in which the top 14 countries are located – no region of the world has been spared censorship or violence towards journalists.
And who are these 14 countries? Iceland, Norway, Estonia, Slovakia, Belgium, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland, Portugal, Switzerland, Latvia, Netherlands and Czech Republic. Congratulations to these leading countries, and shame on the rest!
Note that the Big Brother and the Queen are not in the above list. But anyway, they are better than some others.
Back to Arab States ranking, the story is as expected. Looking at the leading countries from the bottom we find that Somalia, Palestine and Iraq are ranked 159, 158 and 157 respectively. Not surprised by this due to what they are going through with the Israeli occupation from one side and from the USA ‘Freedom Operation’ on the other side, beside Somalia’s ‘brothers war’, but this is not enough excuse for them to be leading the bottom.
The battle raging between Hamas and Fatah is the main cause of the large number of serious press freedom violations in the Palestinian Territories (158th). Hostage-taking, arrests, physical attacks and ransacking of news organisations – the Palestinian media and the few visiting journalist are threatened from all sides.
In Iraq (157th), what journalists fear most are the armed groups that target them without the authorities ever finding a way to put an end to the litany of violence. More than 200 journalists and media assistants have been killed since the start of the US-led invasion in March 2003.
Next comes Libya ranked 155, which is not far from Palestine and Iraq, but I guess this country is going through worst that Israeli and USA occupation, so they are excused.
Now comes Syria as rank 154 and they are also excused because the are in “continuous state of war” against God knows who?! (if you know, let me know).
Who’s next? Saudi Arabia (148), Egypt (146), Tunisia (145), Yemen (143), Sudan (140). Great mix and match. Rich and educated countries with poor and highly illiterate percentage of the population countries, that if we give Sudan the excuse like their Palestinian, Iraqi, Libyan and Syrian brother and assume that they are in war against ‘poverty’!
Algeria (123), Jordan (122), Bahrain (118), Morocco (106) and Lebanon (98). Not really good and can do much better, specially Lebanon. Next comes Qatar (79), United Arab Emirates (65), Kuwait (63) and Mauritania (50), which is the best position that any Arabian country could reach this year, so congratulations to Mauritania for being at least among the top 1/3 of the list!
Some non-European countries have made their first appearance in the top 50. They are Mauritania (50th), which has climbed 88 places since 2004, Uruguay (37th) and Nicaragua (47th).
Wow! Big hand for them.
Quoting the report again and looking at the Big Brother:
There were slightly fewer press freedom violations in the United States (48th) and blogger Josh Wolf was freed after 224 days in prison. But the detention of Al-Jazeeraâ€™s Sudanese cameraman, Sami Al-Haj, since 13 June 2002 at the military base of Guantanamo and the murder of Chauncey Bailey in Oakland in August mean the United States is still unable to join the lead group.
[...] We regret all the same that only two G8 members, Canada (18th) and Germany (20th), managed to be among the top 20.
And as a blogger, this is the worst part of the report:
Government repression no longer ignores bloggers
The Internet is occupying more and more space in the breakdown of press freedom violations. Several countries fell in the ranking this year because of serious, repeated violations of the free flow of online news and information.
In Malaysia (124th), Thailand (135th), Vietnam (162nd) and Egypt (146th), for example, bloggers were arrested and news websites were closed or made inaccessible. “We are concerned about the increase in cases of online censorship,” Reporters Without Borders said. “More and more governments have realised that the Internet can play a key role in the fight for democracy and they are establishing new methods of censoring it. The governments of repressive countries are now targeting bloggers and online journalists as forcefully as journalists in the traditional media.”
At least 64 persons are currently imprisoned worldwide because of what they posted on the Internet. China maintains its leadership in this form of repression, with a total of 50 cyber-dissidents in prison. Eight are being held in Vietnam. A young man known as Kareem Amer was sentenced to four years in prison in Egypt for blog posts criticising the president and Islamist control of the country’s universities.