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Arab world rulers turn journalists into courtiers

Ia lot of The shutdown of independent media outlets around the world has sparked an uproar. Not in Algeria. On 7 January, only a handful of journalists attended a press conference called by lawyers for journalist Ihsane el-Kadi, following his arrest and the shutdown of the radio station and website he owned. Goons confiscated his journalists’ mobile phones and computers. “People were too shocked and scared by the arrest to publish it,” said his daughter, Tin Hinane, a respected Algerian analyst. “The media in Algeria has been co-opted or forced to shut down by the state.”

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Not always. For decades, Arab rulers have put up with some sort of independent media. Some see it as a safety valve and a way to gauge public opinion. They hold on tight to reporters, but don’t force reporting. “We wrote about corrupt arms deals, local support for jihadists and the suppression of women’s rights,” recalls a nostalgic 1990s Saudi journalist.

no longer. Eight of the 15 worst abusers of press freedom are in the Middle East, up from five 20 years ago, according to the international watchdog Reporters Without Borders. The dictators who swept through the Arab Spring in 2011 have reduced journalists to spokesmen. In 2019, most of Egypt’s major newspapers carried the same 42-line obituary in memory of ousted President Mohamed Morsi. “An intelligence officer oversees your work, so you just tune in and write about the leader’s great projects—his bridges and his roads,” laments a seasoned Egyptian journalist.

More and more Arab regimes, the only news allowed is good news. Last summer, the United Arab Emirates (United Arab Emirates) shut down a local newspaper, alroya, and fired its editor and dozens of reporters for reporting on low oil prices in Oman. “If you work for a government agency, you have to obey the agency’s rules,” an official explained. The regime also buys up advertising companies so that wayward newspapers can be instantly deprived of revenue. As funding dries up, governments or their friends snap up independent channels—or let them fail.

Some governments have enacted laws banning news that is seen as destabilizing to society. Journalists can be bothered by software such as Pegasus, an Israeli-made system that snoops on smartphones. Many were simply locked up. Egypt is the third-largest country in the world for jailing journalists. The 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi silenced many, according to CPJ, non-governmental organization in New York.

The three Gulf states today—Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and wxya— Dominate the pan-Arab market. Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, was once the media center of the Arab world and still hosts a major Shiite radio station. But investing in large outlets is too broken.

Foreign broadcasters used to offer alternatives. When Egypt announced during the Arab-Israeli war in 1967 that Israeli warplanes fell from the sky like flies, bbc According to reports, the Israeli army is advancing across the board.but in september bbc said it would end 84 years of transmission of its Arabic-language broadcasting service and lay off many of its staff. “this bbc It’s being sterilized,” said Hugh Myers, author of a book on the Arab media. “It’s become very fearful of dealing with Gulf regimes. ”

Other Western outlets, such as Bloomberg and Sky News, are arranging collaborations with Gulf countries; these may limit their reporting. The regime impeded foreign reporting by expelling journalists, restricting visas, and blocking news websites.

For more than a century, Arab journalists have sought refuge in the West when things got too bad at home. After civil war ravaged Lebanon in the 1970s, London became the media capital of the Arab world. But there are signs that Arab governments may be bringing their London-based media back home to better control them. Araba newspaper and Al Ghad, a satellite television Both channels are funded by the UAE and have recently been pulled from London. In August, Qatar-owned satellite channel Al-Araby Al-Jadeed moved its headquarters from London to the Qatari capital, Doha. “In most of the Arab world, employees have to do what you tell them to do,” said Abdulrahman ElShayyal, who was most recently the channel’s boss. “Editors behave like government ministers.”

Under stricter oversight, standards slip. Demoralized editors copy and paste press releases as news. television Hosts are so afraid of straying from the official text messages they receive during broadcasts that they sometimes add “Brought to you by Samsung” in their announcements. Incarcerations have fallen; in 2021, there will be 72 journalists detained in the Arab world, just 25% of the global total, down from 32% in 2020. But that’s only because their reporting has become less critical.

Circulation and ratings are considered state secrets, so it’s not clear whether ratings are slipping as shows become more tedious. But it’s a fair bet. “Arabs are abandoning the mainstream media,” said Abdel Bari Atwan, a Palestinian journalist based in London. In a survey of Arab youth conducted by Asda’a in 2019, United Arab EmiratesPoll-based surveys show 80% of people prefer social media for news, up from 25% in 2015.

The government is happy that their citizens seem to be more into theater and sports than current events. Saudi Arabia and Qatar invest heavily in sports.Saudi owned MBC The largest media provider group in the Arab world showcases multiple television Also on soap operas. Still, Saudi journalist Abdelaziz Alkhamis predicts that Arab rulers may still regret keeping the fourth estate silent. “If you fail to alert leaders to the anger and problems in society, another Arab Spring could surprise them again.”

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