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Suspicious minds, Part I

Suspicious minds, Part I

Contrary to what you might think, investigative journalism is alive and snooping in the Middle East, says Communicate magazine, Part I.

October 5, 2009 3:58 by

“Investigative journalists are like the dead rat that was brought to the party. No one likes us.” A colorful, throwaway quote from Seymour Hersh, the world’s most famous investigative journalist, speaking at this year’s Arab Media Forum in Dubai. And in the Middle East he could well be right; the region is hardly revered for its freedom of expression.

The 2008 Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RWB) shows that, in a report spanning 173 countries, most in this region ranked outside the top 100 in terms of press freedom. Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Iran are among those countries that recorded low press freedom scores, with most of them moving down the rankings from their 2007 positions. Only Lebanon, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates ranked in the top 100, with the first four even moving up in comparison to the previous year.

That doesn’t mean these countries are at the vanguard of free speech. This summer UAE-based Arabic daily newspaper Al Emarat Al Youm’s print and online versions were suspended for 20 days and the editor was fined AED20,000 for publishing an article in 2006 about the doping of a racehorse owned by the country’s ruling family. The paper was accused of “deliberately publishing false and inappropriate information.” RWB issued a statement saying that the ruling “poses a threat to the independence of investigative media in the United Arab Emirates,” and that the sentence was “disproportionate and liable to intimidate media, which will assume that they could also be suspended or fined if they publish articles that displease those in positions of influence.”

In 2008, Egyptian private company Trust Chemical Industries sued Egyptian blogger Tamer Mabrouk over a blog entry accusing the company of dumping hazardous waste in a lake and the Suez Canal. A Port Said court fined Mabrouk, who was also fired from his job at the chemical company, 45,000 Egyptian pounds (around $8,000). RWB stated that, “The fine that has been imposed is an insult to free expression.”

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