Newsletter No 5 03 November 2005
 
Press Freedom:
RSF 2005 Press Freedom Index: Situation in Arab Countries Still Very Poor

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has published its annual worldwide press freedom index. According to the international freedom of expression organization, there has been none or very little improvement in the Middle East and North Africa region.

“The Middle East is where journalists have the toughest time and where government repression or armed groups prevent the media operating freely,” states RSF, pointing at Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Syria in particular.

The Arab countries that have the highest positions on the 167-country list are Kuwait (85), Qatar (90) and Jordan (96). The most remarkable advances in the Arab countries have been registered in Jordan, going from position 121 to 96; United Arab Emirates from 137 to 100; and Bahrain, from 143 to 123.

On the other hand, RSF reported a deteriorating situation in Algeria (129), where “President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is still trying to cow the privately-owned press” and in Egypt (143) where the situation has “deteriorated sharply, with attacks on several journalists and with President Hosni Mubarak failing to keep his promise, made in 2004, to decriminalize press offences.”

Also, “a free and independent press still does not exist in Syria (145), Saudi Arabia (154) and Libya (162) and their inhabitants have no other source of news except the official media, which just puts out regime propaganda,” states RSF.

Special comments are dedicated to two Arab countries.

In Iraq (157) “the situation deteriorated further during the year as the safety of journalists became more precarious. At least 24 journalists and media assistants have been killed so far this year.” The role of the USA in the country is also criticized by RSF placing “the United States of America in Iraq” in position number 137. “The US army also violated press freedom, as it did in 2003 and 2004. Six journalists were jailed in Abu Ghraib prison without explanation and not allowed to receive visits from their lawyers, families or employers. Four journalists were killed by US army gunfire between September 2004 and September 2005,” says RSF.

The other Arab country that received particular attention is Tunisia (147). “The authorities in Tunisia have tightened their grip on journalistic activity and President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s promises to allow more press freedom have proved empty. Emergence of a free press remains a dream in the country that will host the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society from 16 to 18 November.”

At the head of this fourth annual index on the press freedom situation worldwide are seven European countries: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland. The three countries at the bottom of the list are Turkmenistan, Eritrea and North Korea.

To view the whole index, go to www.rsf.org