Arab Spring frees media, mostly |
Gulf Times - 02 May, 2012
Author: David Rosenberg
For the first time in eight years, freedom of the global press was not in the decline in 2011 and for that the world can thank protesters who brought down dictatorships in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, the human rights monitor Freedom House says in its annual survey of the media.
Led by dramatic improvements in press freedom in Libya and Tunisia, and with some help from Egypt, Freedom House says its index of global press freedom edged up 0.14 point last year, offsetting declines in most other parts of the world. Libya, which under Muammar Gaddafi’s rule had one of the world’s most suppressed media, was designated “partly free” in 2011. Tunisia, which also enjoyed a huge rise in its score, won the same designation.
At the same time, the Arab Spring protests that unleashed a new era of media freedom also elicited a pushback from the region’s authoritarian regimes still fighting to stay in power. Moreover, the infant democracies the turmoil has created are fragile and have already experienced some reversals, Freedom House president David Kramer said.
“The newly opened media environments in countries like Tunisia and Libya, while still tenuous and far from perfect, are critical for the future of democratic development in the region and must be nurtured and protected,” he said. “Also of great concern are those countries, both in the Middle East and around the world, where authoritarian regimes are now on the defensive, creating an even more perilous situation for journalists.”
In fact, the Arab Spring had the perverse effect of sparking crackdowns on media all around the world, Freedom House said. Fearing their own people might be inspired to revolt, many countries took steps ranging from information blackouts in the state media to sophisticated Internet and text-message filtering.
The percentage of the world’s population enjoying free media declined by half a percentage point last year to its lowest since 1996, when Freedom House began incorporating population data into its survey.
Moreover, the big improvement in press freedom last year did not have a big enough impact to change the status of the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) as the world’s chilliest place for journalists and bloggers. Even though the average score for Mena countries jumped 2.9% last year after three years of declines, it had the poorest ratings of any of the world’s regions.
Five Mena countries were designated “partly free” and 13 as “not free”. Those 13 accounted for more than 70% of the region’s population, according to the report, Freedom of the Press 2012: A Global Survey of Media Independence.
“Although transnational satellite television and Internet-based information platforms have had a positive impact, the media in much of the region remained constrained by emergency rule, state ownership and editorial directives, harsh blasphemy legislation, and laws against insulting monarchs and public figures,” the report said.
Syria’s rating fell five points to 89 in 2011 as it barred foreign journalists from covering the 14-month-old rebellion against the role of President Bashar al-Assad. Independent media outlets have been forced to close, giving the state media a monopoly, Freedom House said.
Although the Arab Spring is little more than a year old, many of the democratising governments that have arisen from it have sought to restrict press freedom, the report found. The transitional Libyan regime has liberalised the media environment but hasn’t established institutions that would guarantee it. In Egypt, “many features of the old regime” have survived and the interim military government has reportedly interfered in television news, Freedom House said.