March 2, 2011
Newseum's press freedom map located in the Time Warner World News Gallery.

Newseum's press freedom map located in the Time Warner World News Gallery.

Press Freedom in the Middle East: Far from Free

As Libya's Col. Moammar Gadhafi's grip on power weakens by the day, and citizens in Egypt and Tunisia adjust to life after their leaders' resignations, challenges to the press are also being felt.

According to Freedom House, an independent private organization that supports the global expansion of democracy and freedom, the press in Libya and Tunisia is "not free," while Egypt's "partly free" press consistently restricts what its journalists can cover, despite constitutional guarantees of press freedom.

In its 2010 survey of press freedom around the world, Freedom House found:

  • The Libyan government "severely limits the rights of the media in practice; journalists who violate the harsh press codes can be imprisoned or sentenced to death."
  • In Tunisia, "government censorship is routine; offensive statements about the president carry prison sentences of up to five years.
  • Egyptian journalists who "tested the boundaries of acceptable coverage" were confronted with arrests, lawsuits and state-sponsored assaults.

Egypt has lived under an emergency law for some 30 years, giving the government more power than would be expected in a democratic society, with penalties for journalistic infractions ranging from fines to time in prison.

In its attempt to clamp down on the revolt that eventually toppled President Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian government initially blocked access to Twitter and other social media sites, which were being used to share information and organize the protests. The government also shut down but restored Internet service.

But despite government efforts to silence protesters, they, with the help of social media, made their voices heard. Only time — and the outcome of the growing citizens' revolts across the Middle East — will tell if the press status in those countries will change or remain the same.

For a look at press freedom around the world, visit the press freedom map located in the Time Warner World News Gallery.

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