Category Archives: Middle East

Prejudice: A Natural Outcome of Censorship

China Digital Times pulled a great item from an interview with Chinese publisher Bao Pu and writers Guo Xiaolu and Hao Qun (who goes by the pen name Murong Xuecun) from the June 3 issue of Foreign Policy.

The blockage of the Internet by the Chinese government means, said the authors and publisher, that people are not getting enough information to make rational decisions.

[R]elatively few people actually bypass censored information on the Internet. But why? Censorship in the long run breeds prejudice. Once you have this prejudice, you think you know everything, but you don’t. That’s why they’re not actively seeking — because they think there’s nothing out there. It’s a vicious cycle.

I have long argued that censorship means the people of a country will begin to rely more on rumors and prejudices than on cold hard facts. China’s rulers, however, say too much unregulated (censored) information leads to social instability.

What they really mean is that once people start thinking critically, the iron-heel rule of the Communist Party in China will be weakened.

And what goes for China goes for other dictatorships. Think Iran, Saudi Arabia or Zimbabwe. Even the leaders in proto-dictatorships such as Singapore and Malaysia want to control all forms of media to protect their hold on power.

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Filed under Africa, Asia, Censorship, China, Freedom of Information, Middle East, Press Freedom

Turkey takes dark turn

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has always had a thin skin and low tolerance for anyone criticizing him. He has now taken the dramatic step of not only attacking a newspaper that has regularly opposed his actions, but Erdogan ordered the paper seized by the government. (See list of articles below.)

The take over is just another in a series of actions by Erdogan and his government that has earned Turkey a status not having free media from Freedom House.

According to the Freedom House report, news organizations that criticized the Erdogan government were harassed and often individual journalists were targeted with death threats.

In its report on Turkey, Freedom House laid out the steady decline of press freedom in Turkey ever since Erdogan became a national leader — prime minister and now president:

The government enacted new laws that expanded both the state’s power to block websites and the surveillance capability of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT). Journalists faced unprecedented legal obstacles as the courts restricted reporting on corruption and national security issues. The authorities also continued to aggressively use the penal code, criminal defamation laws, and the antiterrorism law to crack down on journalists and media outlets.

turkey_5years_capture_updated-445x480All this happens while the Turkish constitution claims free press is a guarantee. Unfortunately for the Turkish media, the government has pushed through a number of laws that get supported by the courts, all in the name of fighting terrorism.

Press freedom in Turkey has been in a steady decline for the past five years. The latest move by Erdogan is perhaps the most blatant attack on free press.

The highly popular Zaman was taken over by the government when police raided the offices late Friday, March 4. The paper was only barely able to get its last indpendent edition out before the takeover.

Zaman was tied to Erdogan former ally and now political foe Fethullah Gulen. The two had a falling out as Erdogan moved toward a more militant Islamic style government. Gulen — who lives in the United States in self-imposed exile — preaches a tolerant Islam and promotes dialogue among Christianity, Judaism and Islam, the so-called Faiths of the Book.

The latest Freedom House report of political freedom puts Turkey in the PARTLY FREE category, but with a downward trend. It is nestled in with other PARTLY FREE societies such as Zambia, Tanzania and Nicaragua.

Now, why should we, in the United States, care about what goes on in Turkey.

There is the basic humanitarian issue, that people should have political freedom and with it, press freedom. But on a larger issue, Turkey controls the Bosporus Strait. Through this narrow strip of water millions of dollars of goods flow in an out of the Black Sea. If turkey were to take a dislike to a country, it could prevent vessels bound to/from that from passing through.

Then there is the refugee issue. Thousands of Middle East refugees pass through Turkey on their way to Greece and western Europe. The European Union needs help in dealing with this complicated humanitarian issue.

And, Turkey is a member of NATO. It is bound to North America and western Europe by treaty. What Turkey does inside its own borders has a direct impact on U.S. foreign policy — diplomatic and military. It is a vital partner in the fight against ISIS and in dealing with the Syrian civil war.

If the Turkish government shuts down the independent media, then the only way the rest of the world will know what is going on in that country will be what the government wants the world to know. Given the volatility of the region and important role Turkey plays in the area, we need to know as much as possible about not only what the government is thinking but also the reactions of the country’s citizenry.

Articles and commentaries about the take over of Zaman:


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Filed under Censorship, Harassment, International News Coverage, Middle East, Press Freedom

Bags that tell a dramatic story

The International Rescue Committee put together a great series of questions, answers and photos to show what refugees have in the bags as they flee the violence of Syria. (Organized by Medium).

WHAT’S IN MY BAG? What refugees bring when they run for their lives

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Filed under Middle East, Story Ideas

New campaign to free journalists

Thanks to Roy Greenslade at The Guardian for pointing out the new Reporters Without Borders campaign to help journalists in Eritrea, Saudi Arabia and China.

Press freedom body highlights plight of Eritrea’s jailed journalists

Reporters Without Borders (RWB), the Paris-based press freedom watchdog, has launched a fund-raising campaign based around the plight of jailed journalists inEritrea, China and Saudi Arabia.

The Eritrean prisoner is Dawit Isaak, who has been imprisoned without trial for 13 years after being arrested along with other newspaper editors in 2001.

Isaak is reported to be dying slowly in a prison camp where detainees are tortured by being shut inside steel containers during periods of intense heat. And RWB has used that image of a container to publicise its campaign.

Read full article here.


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Filed under Africa, China, Middle East, Press Freedom

PA and Hamas Violating Palestinian Press Freedom

Once again Al Jazeera has a great piece on an issue that is not getting a lot of coverage in the U.S. media.

In this case the issue is press freedom in the West Bank and Gaza. Seems the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are engaged in numerous violations of press freedom and harassment and arrests of Palestinian journalists. The charges against the journalists from each government  is pretty much the same: The reporters where asking questions.

Palestinian journalists decry intimidation

The PA and Hamas have committed at least 500 documented press violations since 2007, including arrests, detention, torture, physical violence and censorship, according to the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA).

Journalists are consequently forced to work in a political climate that has increasingly “led to the promotion of self-censorship among journalists, and media outlets”, the MADA press release observed.

Rest of story

What Hamas and the PA apparently have not yet figured out is that for there to be a democratic and independent Palestinian state, there has to be free and independent media.

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Filed under Censorship, Harassment, Middle East, Press Freedom

“Local” station run spots that include sniper locations – Al Jazeera

Local media is supposed to provide local news. For most people in the world that means information on city councils, mayors, schools and civic groups.

But in Syria, an experiment in local news means identifying where the minefields are and where the snipers are located.

Aleppo TV provides lifeline in wartime

Granted, the “local” news is broadcast from neighboring Turkey, but the news is what is needed at the local level.

The 24-hour, opposition-aligned news channel started a few months after the uprising began in Syria in March 2011, in order to cover protests and broadcast news about the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, back when it was hard to find any independent, non-government-controlled news out of Syria’s largest city.

”It’s an experiment of having a local TV [station] inside Syria, because previously we had only the government’s national TV,” said Aleppo Today’s manager, Khaleel Agha. 

The station lets viewers know where fighting has broken out, where snipers are located, which roads are safe and what the constantly fluctuating currency exchange rates are. It also keeps viewers up to date on which border crossings with Turkey are open, and whether they are open to foot traffic only, or also to cars.

One public service announcement recently warned residents to keep their important documents at home, in a convenient place, so they can grab them and flee at a moment’s notice.

Rest of story.

Kudos to Al Jazeera America  for running this “slice of life” story from Syria. Expect to see a similar story on NPR in a couple of weeks and then in the rest of the US media in a month or so.

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Filed under Middle East, Story Ideas

Journalism is not terrorism

Roy Greenslade at the Guardian has a great piece on the arrest and prosecution of journalists in Egypt.

Al-Jazeera reporter – journalism is not terrorism and I’m not a terrorist

A lot of commentary on this piece is not needed.

One sub-head in the column says it all when it comes to the need for free and independent media: Cairo is a rumour mill – who knows what to believe?

Just go to the column and read it. Well worth your time.

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Filed under Censorship, Harassment, International News Coverage, Middle East, Press Freedom