“The graveyard of freedom” [Archives:2007/1025/Viewpoint]

February 15 2007

In its 2007 report on the Middle East, French press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders presented a very gloomy picture of media freedoms during 2006 in the region, calling it “the graveyard of freedom.”

During the year, 65 journalists and media assistants were killed in Iraq alone. Journalist kidnappings also increased, mostly in Iraq, where seven of the 17 kidnapped journalists were executed. The report criticized Middle Eastern governments for not living up to their promises to promote more freedom and democracy, saying, “Journalists are subject to the whim of monarchs and 'life' presidents, who keep tight control of the media.” Overall, the complaints ranged from harassment and censorship to abduction and execution. The report stated that most countries in the region also use restrictive press laws to control the media. Several promises made at the beginning of the decade to revise them haven't been kept and journalists still may be imprisoned for press offenses. Journalists have very little room to maneuver and self-censorship is the norm.

However, 2006 brought attention to strong restrictions against reporting on religious issues. For example, the consequences of republishing the Danish cartoons occurred in several countries during 2006, including Yemen, where statements against the three accused newspapers and editors were neither coherent nor explainable. To a great extent, I agree with the report; however, I don't agree with the pessimism reflected upon Middle East media freedoms in 2006. We've experienced many achievements in Yemen – although partially – yet they're still promising. For example, the Yemeni Journalist Syndicate elections can be considered a milestone in Yemeni media development.

Additionally, two Yemeni editors-in-chief received international awards in recognition of their work in 2006. Collective work and alliances were created to work on a new Yemeni press code to ensure more freedoms for journalists. Harassments against Yemeni journalists also decreased from the previous year 2005, when they were at their worst.

While it's true that journalists have suffered and remain at great risk in Iraq and Palestine, this is true of any nation experiencing civil crises or in a state of war. Journalists are part of the community, so they're subject to what the general populace is subjected to, in addition to their dangerous role of reporting and informing, which puts them on the front line and consequently, exposes them more to danger. Reports from Ethiopia and other African nations are alarming and some Latin American countries are reputed for targeting journalists and human rights activities. I feel it's unfair to call the Middle East “the graveyard of freedom” – not because we enjoy all of our rights, but because we're living in a time of renaissance when there's a strong tide of awareness and a hunger for freedom.