Arab world suffers decline in media freedom

2011 saw a decline in media freedom across many countries in the Arab world, in spite of the democratic gains of the Arab Spring.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) who released their 10th annual Press Freedom Index earlier this week, commented that “This year’s index sees many changes in the rankings, changes that reflect a year that was incredibly rich in developments, especially in the Arab world”.

The index compiles information gathered from questionnaires, which are sent to Reporters Without Borders offices around the world, as well as to media organisations, judges and lawyers, universities and NGOs. Covering 179 countries, the index is laid out in a ranking table, which illustrates whether the country has moved up or down in the index compared with the preceding year. “This year’s index sees many changes in the rankings”, which very much reflects the “contrasting political outcomes” of the Arab uprisings.

This contrast is exemplified by the disparity between Tunisia and Bahrain. Tunisia, which holds 134th position on the index has moved up 30 places, while Bahrain, which holds 173rd position has fallen 29 places “because of its relentless crackdown on pro-democracy movements, is trials of human rights defenders and its suppression of all space for freedom.”

The report goes on to detail the low ranking of Syria, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. Syria, which was already poorly ranked in 2010 fell to 176th position this year, while Egypt has fallen 39 places to 166th position due to the military crackdown since the fall of Mubarak. Yemen falls to 171st position, while Libya takes 154th position having “turned the page on the Gaddafi era”.

Despite the pro-democracy movements in the Arab world, “Crackdown was the word of the year in 2011” says RSF, “Never have acts of censorship and physical attacks on journalists seemed so numerous”. This analysis is borne partly out of attempts, elsewhere in the world, to emulate the pro-democracy movements of the Arab world. Regional and local protests in China were quashed by the government, which responded by reinforcing its tight grip on the media and carrying out extrajudicial arrests. With this, China takes 174th place. Iran, Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea accompany China at the bottom of the ranks.

“The equation is simple: the absence of suppression of civil liberties leads necessarily to the suppression of media freedom. Dictatorships fear and ban information, especially when it may undermine them”.

There have been some European countries that have deviated from the rest of the continent:

“Within the European Union, the index reflects a continuation of the very marked distinction between countries such as Finland and Netherlands that have always had a good evaluation and countries such as Bulgaria (80th), Greece (70th) and Italy (61st) that fail to address the issue of their media freedom violations, above all because of their lack of political will.”

The index also highlights a lack of progress from France, which moved from 44th to 38th place, Spain, which remained in 39th position and Romania, which moved from 53rd to 49th place.

The report highlights the issue of endemic violence and its affect on media freedom. Pakistan, which takes 151st position, “was the world’s deadliest country for journalists for the second year running”. Somalia (164th) remains low ranking due to its continuous state of war, and Iraq, which is 152nd in position, fell back 22 places “now worryingly approaching its 2008 position” of 158th.

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