Title

Five Years Later: Directions in Censorship and Media Freedom in the Middle East and North Africa

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2016

Department

Political Science

Language

English

Publication Title

Orient

Abstract

Zhou Enlai was not referring to the effects of the French Revolution of 1789 when he delivered his famous verdict in 1972 that it was "too early to say," but to the May 1968 uprising in France. Today we are at an only slightly longer remove from the Arab Uprisings of 2010-11. When assessing their effects on media and censorship, it certainly is still too early to say. But we can discern some patterns.

In brief, governments in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) had already shown they could adapt to structural shifts in media -- satellite television and Internet -- to preserve regime security. Most regimes survived the uprisings essentially unchanged. The uprisings pushed states to adapt once again, mostly in more draconian directions. Among Arab States, only Tunisia presents significant leberalisation of the media environment. States where order broke down -- Libya, Syria, Yemen -- present both greater risks and new opportunities for media worker and organisations. Other Arab states, Iran, Turkey, and Israel have all stayed as they were or moved in an illiberal direction. Structurally, little has changed.

If there is any change that might be broad and lasting, it is that journalists in the region may be somewhat less prone to self-censorship than before. To the extent that the overthrow of the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia breached the 'fear barrier,' empowering citizens around the region with the belief that the status quo was not immutable, then media workers of all kinds may be emboldened to push against red lines and resist intimidation in greater numbers. Since self-censorship is the most efficient type of censorship, this would be a noteworthy outcome.

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