The frailty of freedom of expression

A conference in Beirut takes another look at the state of press freedom in the Arab world.
By Layal Abdo, Contributor
Censorship in the Arab World
Censorship in the Arab World. R.R.

BEIRUT, Nov. 14 (MENASSAT.COM) - The conference, entitled 'Middle Eastern conflicts in the media - Censorship and Representation', was organized by the IFPO [French Institute for Near East Studies] on November 8, 9 and 10 in Beirut.

It was an occasion for journalists from different backgrounds to discuss the status of journalists in different regions of the Arab world.

Censorship, which also affects online blogs now, was the omnipresent, from the banning of some 1,200 books in Algeria to the arrest of numerous bloggers in Egypt.

How can we classify what is happening in Algeria? This was the question raised by Algerian journalist Ghania Mouffok.

“Each time I write, I express myself differently depending on whether I am writing for the Algerian media or foreign media. For example, I will use 'civil war' when writing for foreign media outlets but I will say 'violent event' when writing for an Algerian paper," Mouffok explained.

As for the case of Algerian journalist Mohamed Benchikou, it is a blatant violation of press freedoms in Algeria. His book addressing the issue of Algerian prisons where he was incarcerated for two years, not as a prisoner of expression but as a common criminal, was banned. His newspaper, Le Matin, is currently non-existent.

Throughout this procedure, the journalists’ syndicate wasn’t able to do anything. As is the case in the majority of Arab countries, syndicates do not have much room to maneuver. As was pointed out by Egyptian blogger Wael Abbas, “in Egypt, the status of member in the journalists’ syndicate is limited to those who are on the regime’s side”.

The search for an alternative medium of free expression has become an urgent matter in the Arab world. Bloggers, who were the first to use the Internet for socio-politico means, invited the wrath of governments. In Egypt, cyber activists have all become potential suspects. The conventional media outlets have started to use these blogs as sources of information “while sometimes omitting to mention the sources”, Wael Abbas said.

As sociologist Maha Taki explained, “80 percent of bloggers in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan exercise self-censorship for political or social reasons”. This is due to the fact that they fear the consequences of the free expression of their ideas. They would thus rather exercise self-censorship from the start.

As for the cinematographers who attended the IFPO conference, namely Rania Stephane and Ghassan Salhab, they presented the video and cinematic arts as an indirect means to express anger, suffering and opposition during times of conflict or negative pressure.

With a few exceptions, all the journalists who were present conveyed the frailty of freedom of expression in the Arab world. Without any protection, journalists remain an open prey to all forms of censorship and mistreatment, whether physical or moral.