Reporters Without Borders

Media in the eye of the storm as revolutions sweep the Arab world

Media in the eye of the storm as revolutions sweep the Arab world

Published on Monday 12 December 2011. Updated on Thursday 29 March 2012.
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Reporters Without Borders takes stock of censorship and infringements of the right to information during the pro-democracy uprisings that began a year ago in the Arab world.

Journalists, and particularly photographers, have paid a heavy price. Eleven media workers have been killed in the performance of their duty, among them several internationally known photojournalists. However, most of the casualties were local journalists.

In its report “Upheaval in the Arab world: Media as key witnesses and political pawns”, Reporters Without Borders looks at the methods used by the authorities to strangle the flow of information during popular uprisings in six countries — Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Syria and Yemen — from 17 December 2010 to mid-November 2011.

The political processes at work are far from over, especially in Egypt, Yemen and Syria.

Egypt experienced a new phase of its revolution during the week preceding its parliamentary elections. Violent clashes pitted demonstrators demanding the removal of the army from power against the security forces. The principle of whether elections should be held at all has divided public opinion.

Yemen’s president, Ali Abdallah Saleh, signed a transition agreement drafted by the Gulf Co-operation Council, in Saudi Arabia on 23 November. Under the pact, he handed over power to his vice-president, Abd-Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, who will be responsible for forming a new government in agreement with the opposition, and for organizing presidential elections within three months.

However, the handover deal has been disputed by protesters since it grants the former president total immunity from prosecution.

In Syria, the government of President Bashar Al-Assad is increasingly isolated internationally. The Arab league, for example, imposed economic sanctions on 27 November.

According to the report of the international commission of inquiry on Syria, published on 28 November, more than 3,500 people have been killed since the uprising began there in March.

Acts of barbarity have been committed, such as the murder of cameraman Ferzat Jarban in Homs on 20 November. The intransigence demonstrated by the Syrian government means that this toll will inevitably increase.

Tunisia and Libya face many challenges in the post-revolution era. They will need the full support of the international community to ensure they have turned their backs on dictatorship once and for all.

This assessment mostly covers the period from 17 December 2010 to 17 November 2011, but also includes more recent events in Egypt. The figures cited are conservative since it has not been possible to compile an exhaustive list of abuses.

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