By Diana Moukalled
27 April 2016
Those following the situation of the Arab press cannot but lament it. Those able to practice real journalism can now be described as courageous.
Given the reality of journalism’s links to an authority – whether a regime, or a religious or political power – criticism becomes mostly directed at this authority’s rivals. This has turned many Arab media outlets into platforms for mobilization and incitement.
What increased this role is current sectarian and political polarization, which has narrowed professional and critical spaces. The feeble contribution of Arab journalism to the Panama Papers, or to documents in the New Yorker exposing the Syrian regime’s crimes, highlights the weakness of the Arab press. In addition to censorship, it is suffering on the security and financial levels.
However, amid this bleak reality, Tunisia has made a remarkable improvement in Reporters without Borders’ press-freedom index – the first Arab country to do so. This at a time when some Arab countries are imprisoning, murdering and torturing journalists.
This progress is to be added to Tunisia’s record as the only success story of the Arab Spring, since its revolution did not result in civil war or bitter struggle, as happened in Syria, Egypt, Yemen and Libya.
Tunisia’s progress still far from resembles Western standards, but it is a positive breakthrough in the Arab world and must be acknowledged
Tunisia’s progress still far from resembles Western standards, but it is a positive breakthrough in the Arab world and must be acknowledged. Admiring what Tunisia has accomplished does not mean ignoring fears that some powerful parties may seek to dominate or restrain the media, as there are past and ongoing attempts to do so. The battle for press freedom in the country has not ended.
The development of technology and the spread of citizen journalism have resulted in the rise of critical public opinion. However, the authorities – under the excuse of security and national interests – are now more violent against those who represent independent journalism. What Tunisia has achieved instils enthusiasm and hope for an end to dependence on money and power. Let us keep this torch burning.