Walking A Tightrope: News Media & Freedom of Expression in the Middle East

Walking A Tightrope: News Media & Freedom of Expression in the Middle East by Layla Al-Zubaidi, Susanne Fischer and Magda Abu-Fadil is a good reference on the state of affairs in the MENA region with a focus on six Arab countries.

Over the past 15 years, the Arab World1 has witnessed the rapid development of its news media, raising standards of reporting as well as expectations. Satellite news channels have successfully breached national boundaries and have stirred public debate, challenged censorship and prompted critical reflection. Audiences across the region and in the diaspora have been actively participating in talk shows, and female anchors and hosts provide new role models for women in the region.

These channels have also managed to reverse the traditional flow of news from Western media to the region. In 1990, Arab viewers turned to CNN for live coverage, when Iraq invaded Kuwait and coalition forces led by the USrolled back the invasion. When a US-led coalition invaded Iraq in 2003, it was Western media that sought coverage from their Arab counterparts.

With the outbreak of what has become known as the “Arab Spring,” the media landscape is again in a heightened state of flux, as new questions arise: Have Facebook, Twitter and YouTube taken over, or do satellite television channels still enjoy the lion’s share of audiences? Are accurate figures on who is influencing whom attainable, at a time when traditional media are struggling to remain financially afloat – in the Arab World and beyond?

What about citizen journalists armed with mobile phones, small digital devices, Internet connections and other means of communication, who are competing to disseminate their messages of anger, hope, fear, defiance, demands for freedom and a better life, while their leaders cling to power and insist on squashing all forms of dissent?

The authors attempt to answer this and other questions in the study that can be downloaded from the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s website.