Posted by on May 16, 2012 in Blog

By Mehrunisa Qayyum

Founder - PITAPOLICY Consulting

I needed to hear some good news before the bad. Somewhere between the optimism and the pessimism, the back and forth feelings suffocate the realism I need to understand how people succeed or inspire, despite challenges to press freedom.

The good news is that Time Magazine announced the Time Most Influential People for 2012.  In particular, PITAPOLICY honed in on those from the pita-consuming region, which are listed below and receive the “PITAPOLICY PLUG”:

  1. Ali Ferzat - Cartoonist, Syria
  2. Samira Ibrahim - Plaintiff, Egypt
  3. Manal Al-Sharif - Activist, Saudi Arabia
  4. Maryam Durrani - Broadcaster, Afghanistan
  5. Rached Ghannouchi - Politician, Tunisia
  6. Asghar Farhadi - Filmmaker, Iran
  7. Ali Babacan & Ahmet Davutoglu -”Neo-Ottomans”: Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Turkey
  8. Hammad bin Jassem bin Jaber al-Thani - Prime Minister & Foreign Minister, Qatar
  9. Ayatullah Ali Al-Khamenei - Supreme Leader, Iran
  10. Iftikhar Chaudry - Chief Justice, Pakistan

The bad news is that Freedom House released its “Freedom of the Press 2012” report, which focused on the Middle East & North Africa region (MENA) entitled, “Breakthroughs and Pushback in the Middle East” compiled by Karin Deutsch Karlekar and Jennifer Dunham.  Specifically, the index assesses the legal, political, and economic factors that influence print, broadcast, and internet freedom. 

True, the “Breakthrough” highlights how “in 2011, Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt improved to Partly Free as media freedom expanded with the fall of longtime dictators.”  But I remember how a seasoned Egyptian-American journalist, Hanan Elbadry, worried out loud that self-censorship in Egypt has increased despite the revolutionary spirit, at a media panel in Washington, DC. 

This region’s media environment underwent huge improvements in 2011, but it remained the worst-performing part of the world. Libya (60), Tunisia (51), and Egypt (57), all moved from ‘Not Free’ to ‘Partly Free’. However, Bahrain (84 points) and Syria (89 points) both experienced declines in press freedom amid crackdowns on protest movements.  Conditions in Iran are still extremely restrictive, with 42 journalists behind bars–the most of any country, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

On May 3rd, Bahrain revoked visas for an NGO (Freedom House) to conduct a site visit to follow up on previous recommendations. The recommendations were not implemented.  Ironically, UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day celebrations began on May 3rd in the MENA country of Tunisia.  

I do not contest the report’s finding that MENA press sees a “significant net improvement”, but I see that for every Egypt moving forward in media freedom, there’s a Bahrain or two moving backward–and neutralizing the progress. Trends like this remind me that some of the top Time influencers in the region have been freely able to express themselves because they have emigrated from those environments limiting freedom expression, like Mohsen Makhmalbaf and other great filmmakers. Those who were not so lucky paid with their livelihoods: the Assad regime took revenge on Political Cartoonist Ali Farzat by breaking his hands

Others are able to express themselves in spite of the environment, like Hammad binn Jassem bin Jaber al-Thani, who literally influences media since he is part of the three factors of production mentioned above: legal, political, and economic influence.  

comments powered by Disqus