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On World Press Freedom Day, it is imperative that civil society organizations and media outlets fight side-by-side for freedom of expression and free media.
As the world celebrates World Press Freedom Day, it is important for us to take a step back and look at the state of media freedom across the Middle East and North Africa. It is a hard time to be a journalist in most countries in the region, with challenges involving censorship, intimidation, and sometimes violence.
In some countries, governments have used the excuse of national security to suppress critical reporting by the media. Social media is often closely monitored and a post can get its author in trouble.
In conflict zones, such as Syria, Yemen, and Sudan, journalists may be targeted by armed groups and many have paid for their commitment to report the truth with their lives. The past few years have seen a record number of journalists killed while performing their work, such as Shireen Abu Akleh who was killed by Israeli fire while covering an Israeli military raid in Jenin in the occupied West Bank.
Despite these numerous challenges, there are a few bright spots scattered across the Middle East and North Africa. Following the Arab Spring in 2011, some countries saw a rise in free press that was able to hold power to account. In Tunisia, for example, the new constitution adopted in 2014 guarantees freedom of expression and the press. In Lebanon, independent media outlets were critical in exposing the corruption of the government and holding it to account.
However, the little gains made are fragile and they face major challenges that threaten their reversal, which is already happening in several places. Tunisia’s new constitution adopted in 2022 has reversed many of the gains made in 2014. Lebanon and Egypt, for example, once regional bastions of freedom of press, are becoming more dangerous for journalists.
Press freedom is a fundamental pillar of any democratic society, as it serves as a watchdog against corruption and abuse of power, and the free flow of information allows citizens to make informed decisions.
Freedoms are not a given and are never guaranteed, and the moment we take them for granted is the moment we lose them.
On this World Press Freedom Day, it is imperative that civil society organizations and media outlets fight side-by-side for the principles of freedom of expression and free media. This means supporting independent media outlets and protecting journalists from violence so they are able to do their important work. We must also speak up about abuses that journalists face, no matter where they are.
The challenges facing the media in the Middle East and North Africa are significant, but they are not insurmountable. If all the different stakeholders work together, we can slowly but surely win press freedom for the MENA region bit by bit to ensure that, when the time comes, citizens have access to the information they need to make informed decisions.