Wednesday 18 Jul 2018 | 20:55 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 18 Jul 2018 | 20:55 | SYDNEY

Press freedom in the Middle East

12 March 2010 09:10

Carla Liuzzo is a freelance consultant living in Doha, Qatar.

Rupert Murdoch delivered a speech to the Middle East Media Summit in Abu Dhabi this week. He strongly encouraged governments in the region to curb censorship and distortion of the media to promote creativity and development of the media industry. Murdoch’s ideas should be welcomed.

Media across the Gulf is woeful by Australian standards. In general, newspapers dedicate the bulk of their front page to the daily activities of the Head of State (regardless of how newsworthy it is), negative reporting on local events is virtually never seen and there’s little room for public debate. Press releases from local PR agencies pass for journalism and are printed verbatim.

Television media like Al Jazeera and Al Arabyia are heralded as forces for progress but still refrain from critical coverage of their backers, the Royal Families of Qatar and Saudi Arabia respectively.

Qatar, where I live, has not had formal censorship of the media since 1995 but in a practical sense self-censorship is rife. It is illegal to ‘offend’ the royal family, the army or Islam. In what was anticipated as progress toward more open media the Doha Centre for Media Freedom was established in 2008. But the centre’s French Director resigned less than a year later citing interference and repression by Qatari officials.

There are some encouraging signs of change. The UAE has tolerated open media coverage of the controversial Sheikh Issa case, the brother of the Ruler of Abu Dhabi who was tried for torture (with videotape evidence of Sheikh Issa beating and running over an Afghan man in a car). The court acquitted him but the case was at a least step in the direction of press freedom.

More progressive papers like The National in the UAE do their best to tread the fine line between perceived threats to nationalism and the critical reporting required for good journalism. 

Murdoch clearly has a commercial interest in seeing the liberalisation of Middle East markets but is likely to be waiting sometime for the rulers of these kingdoms to find themselves in the burning media spotlight Murdoch himself is used to.

Photo by Flickr user sirenmedia's photostream, used under a Creative Commons license.