freedom of the press in the middle east

Freedom of the Press in the Middle East

From a western perspective, the area of the world known as the Middle East decidedly lacks a number of the freedoms that are present in the United States and Europe. This sentiment is effectively summed up in the following excerpt:

“Freedom of the press, a concept touted in much of the Western world, is sadly lacking in most of the Middle East. In some cases, some sources have suggested that given the difficulties of operating in largely non-democratic countries, leading Western news agencies themselves have failed to live up to western standards. Elsewhere, the right of freedom of the press is granted according to the law of the land, but is largely ignored in practice.” (Williams)

When it comes to the situation of freedom of the press in the Middle East, the cultural climate that exists within the region is very oppositional towards any notion of freedom of the press and seeks to subvert such freedoms. To a great degree, this has stifled the growth of the Middle Eastern nations and perpetually keeps their media backwards in relation to the rest of the world. Consider the following:

Iran once again has the region’s worst record of press freedom, with seven journalists in prison and four others provisionally free and in danger of being returned to jail at any moment. Akbar Ganji is still being held in solitary confinement despite a more than 60-day hunger-strike, an international campaign and several official promises to free him. Cyber-dissident Mojtaba Saminejad has been in jail since October 2004, serving a two-year sentence. (Anon RSF)

            Such attitudes are completely out of place in the modern world and all the nations of the Middle East would be much better off if such policies were eliminated. There does, however, need to be an understanding that these nations have the sovereign right to implement poor domestic policies.

When it comes to the subject of freedom of the press in the Middle East, the subject is, in and of itself, a misnomer. That is to say, to discuss freedom of the press in the “Middle East” erroneously presupposes the ideology that there is a coherent unity of laws within the Middle East as if the Middle East is a unified nation along the lines of the old Soviet Union. In reality, the Middle East is comprised of a number of sovereign nations such as Jordon, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Libya, etc all of which have their own laws, rules and regulations.

Furthermore, the term “freedom of speech” derives from the United States constitution and is not applicable to the nations of the Middle East as there is no inalienable right to freedom of the press within those nations. As the Taliban has shown in the past, there can even be a presupposition that there are no rights or freedoms allowed period.

There comes with this a question as to what motivates a global movement towards freedom of the press in the Middle East. Is the movement spawned by a sincere altruistic means of spreading democratic freedoms to these nations or is it simply a means of opening up the marketplace of ideas for news media companies to set up shop or invest in dual partnership agreements with Middle East state owned news organizations.

In some cases, there is a decided lack of infusion of news media into the Middle East region merely because of lack of planning on the part of western media agencies. “We [the west] have no information program in the Arab world…capable of effectively communicating” (Gingrich Pg 18) to the Arab people.

            Ultimately, there needs to be a question asked as to whether or not it is important to persuade an expansive free press within the Middle Eastern world. While it is understandable that sovereign nations have the ability to rule as they see fit, what if the means in which they rule are harmful to other nations? Iran, as stated before, crushed dissent and that has allowed a radical regime to prosper. Considering recent intelligence reports of possible Israeli pre-emptive short range tactical nuclear strikes against Iran being a very real possibility, it would be difficult to argue that Iran’s isolationist hard line stance is being helpful. (Reuters)  A great deal of the problems in Iran center on the despotic regime that has driven the nation’s economy into a horrible situation and it is no surprise that such a failed state will further suppress journalists and academics in a desperation attempt to keep from being criticized.

            To that degree, it is safe to say that pursuing more moderate and progressive policies as opposed to hard line policies would be beneficial to those in the Middle East. A free and open press could help stimulate debate and the exchange of ideas. It could also hold public officials (even monarchies and dictators) accountable for their actions in the public arena. As such, the more disastrous internal policies of the Middle East governments that have lead to the destruction of their economies could be avoided. As such, it would be best for these nations to expand the freedoms accorded to their press.

            This does not mean, however, that changing domestic policy should be coerced or forced upon the nations. Rather, what should be demonstrated is that a free press and criticism is not something to fear, but something to be accepted as a harbinger of “better days ahead.” As such, the poor state of affairs in the Middle East will never reverse itself if all news is disseminated through corrupt state rum news agencies, but rather when the news is turned over to the people themselves.


Anon. 2006. “No progress in Iraq, still the world’s most dangerous country, or in Iran, the region’s biggest prison for journalists.” Reporters Without Borders. 27 January 2007. URL http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=15336

Gingrich, Newt. Winning the Future. Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2006. Reuters. 07 January 2007. “Israel Has Plans For Nuclear Strike: Paper.” 27 January 2007. URL http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20070107/wl_nm/iran_nuclear_israel_dc Williams, Meaghan. 8 March 2005.  “Integrity of the Press in the Middle East.” 27 January 2007. URL  http://www.theprismgroup.org/articles/ integrity_of_the_press_in_the_middle_east.html Woodward, Bob. State of Denial. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006.

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