Syria crisis drags down Mideast media freedom, says RSF

Reporters Without Borders created a '3D' map showing hotspots of press-freedom violations. (Photo courtesy: RWB)

Media freedom is in decline across the Middle East, amid ongoing violence in Syria and worsening conditions in Lebanon and Iraq, according to the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders.

The region already ranks bottom globally in terms of media freedom, and conditions are getting worse, the media rights watchdog found in its annual World Press Freedom Index, published today.

“The broad trend in the Middle East is the decline in the level of press freedom and freedom of information,” Soazig Dollet, head of the Middle East & North Africa Desk at Reporters Without Borders, told Al Arabiya News.

In Syria, around 130 professional and citizen-journalists were killed in connection with their work between March 2011 and December 2013, according to the watchdog, which is known by its French acronym RSF.

“They are being targeted by both the Assad government and extremist rebel militias,” it said in a summary of the report.

The Syrian conflict is dragging down freedom of information in the wider region, the watchdog said. It is “reinforcing media polarization in Lebanon”, which fell four places in the RSF ranking, encouraging Jordanian authorities “to tighten their grip”, and is “accelerating the spiral of violence in Iraq”.

“The Syrian conflict has a huge impact on press freedom in the whole region,” said Dollet.

Egypt ranks a lowly 159th on the list, the same position as last year. The overthrow of Islamist President Mursi in July “marked the start of a witchhunt against journalists suspected of supporting the [Muslim] Brotherhood,” RSF said.

Turkey is 154th on the list, with “dozens” of journalists having been detained there on the pretext of the “fight against terrorism”, RSF said.

The RSF report found that freedom-of-information violations had worsened globally. Syria, Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea ranked bottom of the watchdog’s list, while Finland, Netherlands and Norway were top.

“The index... reflects the negative impact of armed conflicts on freedom of information and its actors,” said Reporters Without Borders head of research Lucie Morillon in a statement. “The world’s most dangerous country for journalists, Syria, is ranked 177th out of 180 countries.”

There were “major declines in media freedom in such varied countries as the United States, Central African Republic and Guatemala and, on the other hand, marked improvements in Ecuador, Bolivia and South Africa,” it said.

“This year, the ranking of some countries, including democracies, has been impacted by an overly broad and abusive interpretation of the concept of national security protection,” said Morillon.

For example, the United States plummeted 13 places in the ranking, RSF said, citing “the hunt for leaks and whistleblowers”. The UK fell three places, partly due to its “harassment” of The Guardian newspaper, one of the first to publish the revelations by Edward Snowden.

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