Your Middle East
Last updated: 1 February, 2013

Journalists are having a hard time in most MENA countries

Syria, Iran, Yemen and Bahrain are all in the very bottom of the Press Freedom Index 2013, released today by Reporters Without Borders.

Syria is ranked 176 of 180 countries in the index. It had the most attacks on freedom of information and was the world’s deadliest for journalists, who are targeted from all directions – Assad’s army as well as the various opposition factions.

Bahrain (165th), which has fallen 66 places in the last four years and is now in the bottom 20, rose eight places after limited improvement. The government crackdown continued but was somewhat reduced in force during 2012 compared to the previous year.

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According to the report, the post-revolution government in Tunisia (138th, -4 places) has not taken efficient measures to pull the country up from the lower parts of the list. There has been an increase in attacks on journalists while the authorities have delayed the implementation of laws regulating the media. Furthermore, there is a general contempt for the media among politicians, according to Reporters Without Borders.

In Egypt (158th, +8 places), which plummeted 39 places in 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood appointed new management of state newspapers, which had a major impact on their editorial policies. The new constitution includes “vaguely-worded provisions that clearly threaten freedoms” and news media can still be closed or seized on the orders of a judge.

Libya shows a positive trend from 2011 as a result of the fall of Gaddafi, climbing 23 places in the index, although the country still has a long way to go at place 131.

“The improvements…need to be confirmed by the inclusion of freedom of information in the constitution and the adoption of laws guaranteeing this freedom and providing real protection for journalists and safeguards for media pluralism and independence,” the report states.

Yemen (169th, +2) shows seemingly little prospects for leaving the group of countries that have the worst record when it comes to press freedom, despite a change of government. Journalists are still being exposed to physical attacks, prosecution and even jail sentences.

Oman (141st) accounted for the biggest drop of all MENA countries in the 2012 index, falling 24 places following the prosecution of some 50 netizens and bloggers on lèse-majesté or cyber-crime charges in 2012.

Jordan dropped six spots to 134th. A royal decree changed the press law, restricting freedom of information – especially for online media – counter to the government’s promises during the protests in 2011. The report also points out that journalists are being tried before military courts, especially when they criticize the royal family.

In Algeria (125th, -3) journalists were the targets of both physical attacks and judicial proceedings. In Morocco (136th, +2), media reform was announced after Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane took office in November 2011 but the promised changed have not happened, for example the decriminalization of media offences.

Turkey (154th, -6) continues to fall in the index. The country is the world’s biggest prison for journalists, especially those who express criticism on the Kurdish issue.

Palestine (146th) rose eight places following improved relations between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, which has had a positive impact on freedom of information and the working environment for journalists. Israel (112nd) fell 20 places due to its actions in the Palestinian Territories, which was given a separate ranking in the index previous years.

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The security situation for journalists Iraq (150th) remains very difficult, with constant obstructions and three killed in connection with their work in 2012. For Saudi Arabia (163rd, -5), Kuwait (77th, +1) and the United Arab Emirates (114th, -2), only slight changes were recorded.

Lebanon (101st) fell eight places, after its media became more polarized by neighbouring Syria’s civil war. Iran (174th) is one of the absolutely worst countries in the world to be a journalist in.