Arab Media: Human rights vs bill limiting media coverage

Arab Media:  Human rights  vs bill limiting media coverage

Committee to Protect Journalists reports that human rights reporting in the Arab media has seen an increase despite efforts to curtail such coverage by repressive Arab regimes. The release provides a good overview of the development of human rights reporting in Arab countries, noting key contributions from Al Jazeera, online journalism, and blogging. Developments have been particularly crucial in this region “where dictatorships far outnumber democracies.” Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, and Robert Mahone, CPJ’s deputy director argue that, “In the past year or so, [Arab] governments have pushed back against independent reporters and bloggers, but journalists believe that in the long run technology will make it impossible for all but the most authoritarian regimes to stem the tide of information.”

They cite Egyptian bloggers like Mohamed Khaled and Wael Abbas for having opened up human rights reporting in Egypt when they began posting video clips of police brutality in 2006. “Once people saw the footage, they had to know more,” Khaled told CPJ. “The story became so big that much of the broadcast and print media eventually covered it.”

Deyam and Mahone point to challenges many bloggers face from governments that have been putting up a counterattack to halt open reporting on human rights issues. “Egypt Tunisia, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, among others, have at times suspended the operations of satellite news channels, particularly Al Jazeera, for highlighting sensitive human rights, political, or religious issues.”

Interestingly enough, the House recently passed a bill designed to prevent Arab satellite networks from broadcasting any material deemed to incite violence against Americans. NPR’s On The Media recently interviewed Marc Lynch about the bill, who criticized what he believes are provisions that would essentially outlaw Arab journalism. “Arab governments really don’t like Al Jazeera. They don’t like media freedoms and they want to control the media. They score some political points by telling the United States to back off, but I don’t believe for a second that they would be sad to see Al Jazeera muzzled,” he argues. “The strange thing is that the United States would put itself on the side of the muzzlers.”

Lynch has blogged that the bill runs counter to the principles Secretary of State Hillary Clinton highlighted in her speech on Internet freedom last month.