“Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human.” UNESCO’s 1995 Declaration of Principles on Tolerance.
In 1996, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 51/95 proclaiming 16 November as International Day for Tolerance.
This action followed the adoption of a Declaration of Principles on Tolerance by UNESCO’s Member States on 16 November 1995. Among other things, the Declaration affirms that tolerance is neither indulgence nor indifference. It is respect and appreciation of the rich variety of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. Tolerance recognizes the universal human rights and fundamental freedoms of others. People are naturally diverse; only tolerance can ensure the survival of mixed communities in every region of the globe.
In 1995, to mark the United Nations Year for Tolerance and the 125th anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi, UNESCO created a prize for the promotion of tolerance and non-violence. The UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence rewards significant activities in the scientific, artistic, cultural or communication fields aimed at the promotion of a spirit of tolerance and non-violence. The creation of the Prize has been inspired by the ideals of UNESCO’s Constitution that proclaims that “peace, if it is not to fail, must be founded on the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind”. The prize is awarded every two years on the International Day for Tolerance, 16 November. The Prize may be awarded to institutions, organizations or persons, who have contributed in a particularly meritorious and effective manner to tolerance and non-violence.
MESSAGE FROM THE DIRECTOR-GENERAL
“At a time when extremism and fanaticism are unleashed too often, at a time when the venom of hatred continues to poison a part of humanity, tolerance has never been more vital a virtue.”
— Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO on the occasion of the International Day for Tolerance
Each Government is responsible for enforcing human rights laws, for banning and punishing hate crimes and discrimination against minorities, whether these are committed by State officials, private organizations or individuals. The State must also ensure equal access to courts, human rights commissioners or ombudsmen, so that people do not take justice into their own hands and resort to violence to settle their disputes.
2. Fighting intolerance requires education:
Laws are necessary but not sufficient for countering intolerance in individual attitudes. Intolerance is very often rooted in ignorance and fear: fear of the unknown, of the other, other cultures, nations, religions. Intolerance is also closely linked to an exaggerated sense of self-worth and pride, whether personal, national or religious. These notions are taught and learned at an early age. Therefore, greater emphasis needs to be placed on educating more and better. Greater efforts need to be made to teach children about tolerance and human rights, about other ways of life. Children should be encouraged at home and in school to be open-minded and curious.
Education is a life-long experience and does not begin or end in school. Endeavours to build tolerance through education will not succeed unless they reach all age groups, and take place everywhere: at home, in schools, in the workplace, in law-enforcement and legal training, and not least in entertainment and on the information highways.
3. Fighting intolerance requires access to information:
Intolerance is most dangerous when it is exploited to fulfil the political and territorial ambitions of an individual or groups of individuals. Hatemongers often begin by identifying the public’s tolerance threshold. They then develop fallacious arguments, lie with statistics and manipulate public opinion with misinformation and prejudice. The most efficient way to limit the influence of hatemongers is to develop policies that generate and promote press freedom and press pluralism, in order to allow the public to differentiate between facts and opinions.
Intolerance in a society is the sum-total of the intolerance of its individual members. Bigotry, stereotyping, stigmatizing, insults and racial jokes are examples of individual expressions of intolerance to which some people are subjected daily. Intolerance breeds intolerance. It leaves its victims in pursuit of revenge. In order to fight intolerance individuals should become aware of the link between their behavior and the vicious cycle of mistrust and violence in society. Each one of us should begin by asking: am I a tolerant person? Do I stereotype people? Do I reject those who are different from me? Do I blame my problems on ‘them’?
5. Fighting intolerance requires local solutions:
Many people know that tomorrow’s problems will be increasingly global but few realize that solutions to global problems are mainly local, even individual. When confronted with an escalation of intolerance around us, we must not wait for governments and institutions to act alone. We are all part of the solution. We should not feel powerless for we actually posses an enormous capacity to wield power. Nonviolent action is a way of using that power-the power of people. The tools of nonviolent action-putting a group together to confront a problem, to organize a grassroots network, to demonstrate solidarity with victims of intolerance, to discredit hateful propaganda-are available to all those who want to put an end to intolerance, violence and hatred.
William Beckerwriting this article titled ‘Balancing freedom of expression with social responsibility’ could be taken as a pertinent illustrator of the sort of times related to dilemmas and traumas. Democracy at best of times associates with higher human capital accumulation, lower political instability, and higher economic freedom that are quasi-impossible to go for nowadays and before the advent of that smart techno hard and software. In any case, Can democracies survive social media?
Balancing freedom of expression with social responsibility
Abraham Lincoln is credited with one of the most enduring statements in American history: “You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” Unfortunately, nearly all Americans have been fooled by this. The first person to utter the statement was actually the showman P.T. Barnum.
Barnum didn’t know about the Internet or social media, of course. He’d be amazed at computers, and even more amazed that anyone could use it to send virtually any statement anywhere in the world, unfiltered and instantly. This extraordinary power allows us to fool millions of people in real time, but it also allows them to fool us. Unfortunately, there are individuals, organizations, and even nations that use social media for precisely that purpose.
The misuse of social media to spread disinformation, misinformation, propaganda, and outright lies is raising questions in democracies about how free freedom of expression should be. Social media are caught constantly between freedom of speech and social responsibility in democracies around the world. “There is an ongoing debate about where to draw the line between freedom of speech and offensive comments,” the authors of the 2020 World Population Review report. “Especially in the age of social media, concerns have arisen over whether freedom of speech is causing more harm than it is good.”
Every country that guarantees freedom of expression already puts boundaries on it. In 2015, the Pew Research Center ranked the tolerance of free speech in 38 countries, scoring them between zero and eight, with eight being the most tolerant. No country earned a score higher than 5.73. That score was awarded to the United States. Pew reported that “Americans are more tolerant of free speech than other nationalities. They also are the most supportive of freedom of the press and the right to use the Internet without government censorship.”
But the world’s most tolerant nation is struggling with an epidemic of misinformation, outright falsehoods, hate speech, conspiracy theories, and deliberate attempts by foreign and domestic groups to undermine democracy. Social media providers such as Facebook and Twitter are being challenged by Congress to find that balance between freedom of expression on the one hand, and serving as conduits of hate and harm on the other.
The U.S. Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law…abridging freedom of speech.” Yet, federal statutes prohibit speech that incites harm to others or distributes obscene materials, for example. The constraints other countries have put on free expression include libel, slander, perjury, obscenity, sedition, incitement, the disclosure of classified information, the unauthorized use of copyrighted information, trade secrets, and speech that violates privacy, dignity, and public security. People in the European Union and Argentina are guaranteed the “right to be forgotten.”
In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and “the right to freedom of expression.” But it also sets boundaries against speech that damages the rights and reputations of others, jeopardizes national security, or threatens public order, health, or morals.
The Internet’s value
Another of America’s historic leaders, Thomas Jefferson, has been quoted, “If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, every American is responsible to be informed.” Ensuring that citizens are well informed is one of the Internet’s most important potentials. How close is it to fulfilling its potential?
The Pew Center for Research asked that question last July in the United States. It studied where Americans get their information and how their sources enhance their knowledge. Pew found that about one in five adults relies on social media for news and information, but 57% of them scored low when asked nine “knowledge questions.” Other researchers found a similar result for television news, probably because some of the most prominent news sources are biased in the United States.
Here is how it happened. Before cable television arrived, there were three dominant TV networks in the U.S. — ABC, CBS, and NBC. Because they used public airways to broadcast content, the federal government felt they had an obligation to public service. Each network had to obtain a broadcast license. In 1949, the federal agency in charge of licensing instituted the “Fairness Doctrine.” It required the networks to present both sides of controversial issues of public importance. Broadcasts had to be “honest, equitable, and balanced.”
Things changed when cable television came along. Cable stations didn’t use public airways. As their numbers grew, viewers could find both sides of controversial issues by channel surfing, if they took the trouble. The Fairness Doctrine fell into disuse and eventually was discontinued. Cable stations are subject to federal rules and local requirements, but their rules pertain mostly to the quality of cable services, rate structures, franchise fees, and so on. The few regulations about programming are much less strict than the standards applied to the major broadcast networks.
As a result, several cable networks began specializing in news slanted to support a political or ideological agenda. One network, Fox News, presents information in ways that appeal to and reinforce the beliefs of conservative viewers. It has proved to be a very successful formula. Fox is now the most widely watched news station in the U.S.
The Pew Research Center found that 60% of Republicans and Republican-leaning voters rely heavily on Fox News, while 53% of Democrats and Democrat-leaning voters tune into CNN, a network that tilts slightly left. In 2012, researchers determined that people who relied on Fox for news knew less about current events than people who watched no news at all. Last July, a new study showed that the same is true for people who frequent the Fox News website.
News outlets like Fox (and conservatives would say CNN) contribute to the ideological rigidity and highly emotional polarization that plagues politics in the United States today. Outlets like these do less for “the responsibility of every American to be informed” than they do for each group’s conviction than it knows better than the other. The fortification of pre-existing biases and beliefs also happens on social media, which uses algorithms to diagnose a user’s beliefs and feeds back like-minded content. We come to the question again whether social coherence and goodwill require that the relationship between free speech and social responsibility should tilt toward responsibility.
It is a delicate and even dangerous question that begs more questions. How do we make sure that whoever sets and enforces the standards of free expression is not cultivating authoritarianism?
Even more worrisome, perhaps, is how we keep a democracy’s information channels open but safe from nefarious state and non-state interference? Cyber espionage, warfare, and crime are pressing issues worldwide beyond the scope of this article. More relevant are the activities by some nations to interfere with and manipulate the democratic processes of others.
Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea are regarded as the nations that conduct most information warfare over the Internet. U.S. intelligence agencies confirm Russia’s manipulation of public opinion during the 2016 presidential and congressional elections. The same agencies report that Russia, China, and Iran are attempting to “hack” the 2020 election, too, in ways that favor either Trump or his opponent, Joe Biden. Experts say that other, smaller nations are working to acquire the same capabilities.
Russian leaders use social media to undermine the American people’s confidence in democracy overall. This isn’t new. “Cyber is facilitating more advanced and more effective psychological warfare, information operations, coercion and intimidation attacks,” NATO’s security expert Jamie Shea warned in 2017. “We used to worry about [hackers targeting] banks or credit cards or inconvenience to customers, now we worry about the future of democracy, the stability and health of our institutions.”
Russia’s use of fake organizations and inflammatory ads on social media is challenging Twitter and Facebook to make concessions to social responsibility. Both were criticized for failing to police Russia’s use of their networks in 2016. This year, Facebook says it will block all new political advertising a week before the November 3 election to prevent misinformation.
Facebook’s chief executive officer, Mark Zuckerberg, says that his company disabled 1.7 billion fake accounts between January and March. Twitter has begun labeling tweets that violate its policies against fake accounts and identities. Two years ago, it created a public archive of 200 million tweets to study them for attempted manipulation. Congress has called on Facebook, Twitter, and Google to explain what they are doing to prevent foreign interference in the 2020 election.
America’s lawmakers are also concerned about foreign and domestic sources misusing Instagram, YouTube, and other social media to spread disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic, possibly inciting the demonstrations, fights, and even violence the country has experienced because of government mandates to wear masks, observe social distancing, and close businesses where crowds congregate.
The Internal threats
Facebook and Twitter are taking steps to identify and/or eliminate “false facts” from inside the United States, too. The most frequent and blatant source is Donald Trump, the “Tweeter-in-Chief.” He pecks out messages on Twitter night and day to dominate the news, insult opponents, praise his own performance, and take advantage of unfiltered contact with the American people.
He set a personal record of 142 tweets during his impeachment trial in January and February, then broke it in June with 200 tweets and retweets on a single day. When Twitter began labeling Trump’s provably inaccurate tweets, the president retaliated with an executive order to regulate social media companies.
The problem is not only Trump and not only social media. “Whether it’s newspapers, television, Facebook, YouTube, or Google searches, someone is pulling strings (and) lobbying their own agendas because there are no consequences,” social media consultant Lon Safko points out. “You can say anything you want, and there are no consequences.”
Social media also is an important propaganda tool for dictators and unscrupulous leaders around the world. In 2019, researchers at the University of Oxford found evidence of organized social media manipulation campaigns in 70 countries. Twenty-six countries were using social media to “suppress fundamental human rights, discredit political opponents, and drown out dissenting opinions.” Government or political party “cyber troops” are using political bots to amplify hate speech, illegally harvest data, and mobilize “trolls” to harass political dissidents and journalists, the University reported.
“Despite the majority of adults surveyed in each country reporting that they used social networks to keep up to date with news and current affairs, a 2018 study showed that social media is the least trusted news source in the world,” says researcher Amy Watson of Statista, a statistics service. “Less than 35% of adults in Europe considered social networks to be trustworthy in this respect, yet more than 50% of adults in Portugal, Poland, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovakia, and Croatia said that they got their news on social media.”
“Concerns about fake news and propaganda on social media have not stopped billions of users accessing their favorite networks on a daily basis,” she says.
So, can freedom of speech survive social media? Can Democracies? Can we find ways to balance freedom of expression with social responsibility? If the proper formula requires restrictions on speech, what should they be? If the government’s job is to protect democracy from cyber-subterfuge, how will it keep up technologies that emerge much faster than governments act?
I think about this a lot. My answers are the same as those we often hear from the world’s top experts and policymakers:
Only time will tell.
William Becker is an author and blogger in the United States. He writes about climate change and many other issues that strike his fancy.
The spread of China’s “techno-authoritarianism,” its pursuit of the “innovation advantage,” and its incompatibility with the liberal democratic model is the focus of a new report. The underlying dynamics and tensions between markets, non-state actors and governments are compelling governments to pursue strategic alliances and partnerships, and the inherent ideological differences between the Chinese system and those of open market, liberal democracies will influence outcomes, argues analyst Alex Capri.
Beijing’s imposition of the national security law in Hong Kong, as well as its internment of ethnic Muslim minorities in China’s western Xinjiang autonomous region, were just several of the latest provocations causing European policymakers to rethink relations with China. Thus, for Beijing, it has become increasingly difficult to find sympathy in Europe regarding Washington’s campaign to crush Huawei….New partnerships, including the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence* (GPAI) and the G7 AI Initiative, that are designed to guide the liberal and transparent development of AI, stand in contrast to China’s export of techno-authoritarianism.
A question that has begun to circulate in trade policy circles is: could a coalition of willing nations form a new global trade institution with standards that require open market principles and democratic ideals? RTWT
In “Artificial Intelligence and Democratic Norms,” the fourth in the “Sharp Power and Democratic Resilience” series from the International Forum for Democratic Studies, Nicholas Wright explores how to establish democratically accountable rules and norms that harness the benefits of artificial intelligence-related technologies, without infringing on fundamental rights and creating technological affordances that could facilitate authoritarian concentration of power.
THE NATION in its Navigating the Middle East as witnessed from Pakistan by Usama Shirazi is an eye-opener on the MENA region’s neighbourhood reciprocal relationship feelings towards it.
September 12, 2020
The Middle Eastern region has enormous importance in Pakistan’s foreign policy. Due to its geographical proximity and historical linkages, it has always been an area with paramount importance for Pakistan’s national interests. Besides a political, economic, and strategic convergence, this region offers cultural, religious, and historical theatres to determine Pakistan’s foreign policy priorities.
Unfortunately, throughout history, this region has been a centre of big power proxies exploiting its heterogeneous population by dividing them into tribes, sects, and religions. In the contemporary geopolitical environment, KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia)/Iran rivalry, intended for regional dominance, has made this region tumultuous and left Pakistan with little space to navigate. Pakistan shares strong bonds with both rivals and has its compulsions in dealing with them.
Even before the inception of Pakistan, the Muslims of the subcontinent had historical relations with all MENA (the Middle East and North Africa) countries. During the First World War, the Muslims started the Caliph movement to save and restore the ailing Ottoman caliphate. The MENA Region people also vehemently supported the Pakistan movement. The relations based on brotherhood continued after the independence of Pakistan. KSA and Iran supported Pakistan in times of every crisis whether these were wars with India or natural calamities.
In the contemporary setting, this region has bogged down in conflicts and chaos due to global and regional power politics. Ever since the Islamic revolution took place in Iran, the fissures between Iran and KSA have been widening. Now, this hostility came to a stage where a little spark may be turned into a conflagration. Pakistan’s relations with both regional powers are of paramount value. Iran shares a 959-kilometer border with Pakistan. Both countries are connected through various economic, trade, energy, and security, cultural and religious engagements. The recent Sino/Iran strategic deal would further create new avenues of cooperation. Iran is very important for Pakistan’s internal security due to the tumultuous population along both sides of its porous border.
On the other side, KSA also holds a special place in Pakistan’s foreign policy. Pakistan shares deep-rooted cultural, religious, economic, and strategic ties with Riyadh. Following the Iranian revolution and during the Afghan war, Pakistan’s relations with Tehran became sour which brought Islamabad and Riyadh closer and their strategic partnership became deeper. Riyadh played a key role in the economic development of Pakistan. Moreover, Pakistan’s diaspora in KSA and its allied GCC countries is a major source of foreign remittances. This shows that both sides hold equal importance for Pakistan and tilting towards either side will alienate the other. Hence, Pakistan cannot afford it due to its internal security problems and the dwindling economy. In Pak/Iran and Pak/KSA relations, there exists a limited parity which demands a neutral foreign policy towards both.
In the Yemen crisis, Pakistani parliament passed resolutions to stay neutral as both KSA and Iran were involved in the conflict. The realist prism proposes that while choosing between two allies, you must go for the one where approximate parity is tilted. However, in Pak/KSA and Pak/Iran, there exists a similar parity. Hence, balancing does not work here.
Secondly, another alliance that makes the region volatile and compels Pakistan to navigate smartly is the new alliance led by Turkey. Turkey besides its close economic and commercial engagements is also a vocal supporter of Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir. However, it has divergent and conflicting interests in Syria, Libya, and Egypt from Pakistan’s gulf partners. Qatar’s closeness to Turkey and Iran made its relations rancorous with GCC countries. In the Qatar blockade, Pakistan wisely maintained neutrality, however, this time; the mounting conflicting dynamics are narrowing diplomatic space for Pakistan.
In managing its relations with new regional blocs, Pakistan should firstly prioritise its national interest. Currently, in the backdrop of the August 5 move, the Kashmir issue has become the lynchpin of Pakistan’s foreign policy. It has become an easy way to win Pakistan’s confidence. So far Turkey and Malaysia have succeeded to win the hearts of the Pakistani people by their vocal support. However, is Turkish and Malaysian support enough to pressurise Narendra Modi to restore the Kashmir status? These countries do not have much political clout in New Delhi and Washington as do Riyadh and its GCC partners. So far, Pakistan is disappointed by the response of its gulf partners on Kashmir; however, in the long run, the simmering public pressure against Modi atrocities could compel them to change their policies. Moreover, in the time of crisis, Pakistan could use their clout in New Delhi and Washington to deescalate tensions as it did successfully following the Balakot episode.
Navigating through this complex and sensitive region, Pakistan needs a dynamic and multipronged foreign policy. Firstly, the civil/military leadership should prioritise its key interests and then use different tools from its foreign policy kit for each partner in the region. The current Sino/Iran strategic deal has further narrowed parity between Pak/Iran and Pak/KSA relations. Secondly, despite a year after the altercation of Kashmir status, the Pakistani ruling elite is still bewildered and unable to devise a vibrant policy on Kashmir. Choosing between the economy and Kashmir, Pakistan is oscillating aimlessly. Without a strong economy, no one will pay heed on what is happening in Kashmir. Hence, taking Kashmir and economy hand-in-hand, Islamabad should devise a neutrality-cum-balancing strategy towards the Turkish-led bloc and the KSA-led block. Thirdly, Pakistan needs to diversify its partnership to reduce reliance on either side. This would give Pakistan enough space to manoeuvre. Moreover, Pakistan should place its best diplomats in the MENA region who know the art of diplomacy. As Churchill said, “Diplomacy is the art of telling people to go to hell in such a way that they seek direction”.
With oil, money comes to you in your sleep; with debt, money comes to you by crawling. With work, money comes to you by sweating. MENA’s oil boom is a perfect illustration of the cohabitation between the permanence of endemic moral misery and the existence of abundant financial resources.
The high price of oil has structurally the perverse effect of perpetuating the systems put in place to infinity. Because of oil and gas, America has lost all moral sense. Through the grace of oil and gas, a typical MENA’s oil exporter no longer thinks, it spends. And it pays without counting. It does not need economists; those are holiday troublers; it prefers to deal with merry lurons. It has a visceral desire to entertain the gallery. The public does not ask for so much. Money is flowing. And let the rentier industry live! An industry that does not need a strategy, seminars, speeches, no supply problems, no market problems. It runs at full capacity, and it can do without any government and parliament. It works on its own and is not accountable to anyone, not even to itself. It is royally free from the productive work and creative intelligence of Algerians, Libyans and GCC inhabitants. An industry that cradles illusions, those from the top and feeds the despair of others, those at the bottom. Finally, an industry that works from, by and for abroad. An annuity that oil-consuming states compete for or share tax to finance their mesmerising democracy and producing countries cheaply to perpetuate the obsolete political regimes in place with high costs. The largest share goes to influential locals or foreigners. Some were supporting each other, and vice versa. A society that does not think of itself is a society that is slowly but surely dying. The life of a nation ceases, it is said, when dreams turn into regrets. Oil has made institutions, pale copies of those of our illustrious Western thinkers, empty shells bloated and budgetivorous, without impact on society, intended to camouflage reality to view of the foreigner, but no one is fooled. The world today no longer believes in Santa Claus. At the slightest drop in the price of a barrel of oil, they collapse like a house of cards. They serve only as a storefront in the eyes of international opinion. Non-hydrocarbon exports are insignificant. Yet only labor can oppose oil. But it is marginal. It has accounted for less than 2% of exports over the past several decades. Is this not the apparent sign of the failure of so-called public economic policies that have only the funds, carried out by successive elites and who today have converted into opposition or Islamism. Democracy is a view of the mind in a rent economy dominated by politics. Any political opposition that relies on hard-working forces is doomed to failure. The weight of inertia is predominant; the living muscles are weak. Work has lost its credentials; it bows to the diktat of oil. It is access to petrodollars that guarantees wealth. Easy money fascinates. On another register, who better do without the hen with the golden eggs? Of course not anyone. Would a prolonged and increasing decline in the price of hydrocarbons, reserves or markets be life-saving or lethal for the country? What did the natives live on before the discovery of oil in 1956 by the French? The nation-state is a dupe market between a power and a nation, namely bread against freedom, security against obedience, order against anarchy, external recognition against internal legitimacy. The concept of the welfare state is a convenient fraud that the population believes that providence is at the top of the State and not in the Sahara desert subsoil. One of the criteria for immediately determining whether a nation belongs to the third world is corruption. Wherever the representatives of the State, civil servants, or politicians, from the top to the bottom of the hierarchy are corrupt and where this practice is almost official, we are in a third world country. The membership of people in the third world is above all its political system. The Arab world is dominated by authoritarian or totalitarian powers, by political castes that manipulate words and institutions. This is why no one now believes in development; everyone sees the corruption of political power daily. Governments have deliberately chosen economic growth from the accumulation of oil and gas revenues or to the absence of debt pledged on hypothetical reserves rather than on development and internal mobilisation based on training and employment of men. The States have carried out a vast salary generalisation whose overall social effect is the dependence in which a significant proportion of the working population is located about the income distributed by the State from the revenues export of hydrocarbons to retain an increasingly large and demanding customer base. The essence of the economic and socio-political game is, therefore, to capture an ever-increasing share of this pension and to determine which groups will benefit from it. It gives the State the means to redistribute clientelist. It frees the State from any fiscal dependence on the population and allows the ruling elite to dispense with any need for popular legitimisation. It has the extraordinary turnaround capabilities stifling any attempt to challenge society. The oil will be the engine of corruption in business and the fuel of social violence. It has the art of war and initiating peace. It is both fire and water. He sometimes acts as an arsonist, sometimes as a fireman. It is one thing, and its opposite; wealth and poverty, both are illusions. And as with any illusion, there is a manipulator. We are our gravediggers. To get out of the hole we are sinking into, every day more, we have to stop digging because the solution is on dry land and not at the bottom of a hole. To do this, you have to raise your head, stand up straight, and look yourself in the eye, in all humility, without fear and reproach. You have to arm yourself with science and have faith in God. Science is the key to our problems, religion the ultimate goal of our brief existence. Oil intoxicates us; gas pollutes us, easy money blinds us. It’s dirty money. Money that kills, corrupts, rots, destroys consciences. It is the petrodollars that run the country and give it its substance and stability. The institutions, empty shells, are only there as a garnish to make the “cake” appetising. “Oil is the devil’s excrement; it corrupts countries and perverts’ economic decisions” Juan Pablo Perez Alfonzo, the founding father of OPEC Venezuela 1970.
Personalities, NGOs, journalists and artists, as well as citizens on social networks, have unanimously called for the immediate release of Khaled Drarni, director of “Casbah Tribune“. Though the illusion of peace in the MENA region, is everybody’s concern, denunciations and calls for mobilization have been pouring in after this hefty sentence was handed down, last Monday. There is no better way to unwind the illusion of peace in the MENA region.
The Algerian League for Human Rights (LAADDH) said it was “concerned and outraged by the details of the charges and of the case itself” which it considers “shocking and disproportionate” for unfounded prosecutions and an empty case anyway. “A journalist sentenced to three years in prison is a serious precedent that augurs a bad time for journalists and freedoms,” the LAADDH laments. The League reiterates its “urgent request for the release of journalist Khaled Drarni and all other opinion detainees and respect for Algeria’s human rights and commitments to international and regional human rights protection mechanisms and human rights defenders”.
Reporters Without Borders analysed and in its 2020 RSF Index: The illusion of peace in the Middle East gives us a succinct picture of the situation of the press and of the all media generally. The recent court ruling with regards to a young talents journalist in Algiers came down as not a surprise for most.
Dark clouds still gather over the Middle East, with one country, Iraq, slipping into the countries coloured black on the press freedom map. After a slight drop in the number of infringements, any hopes of appeasement were dispelled by violent crackdowns on public protests, the resumption of increasingly localized military operations and tighter control by iron-fisted governments.
The wars in the Middle East may have become less deadly in the past year but this region still had the largest number of journalists’ deaths. Although there was a reduction in violence and insecurity in the region’s conflicts, the lull was short-lived. Turkey’s operation in Syrian Kurdistan, the government offensive in Idlib in north-western Syria (174th), an upsurge in protest movements in several countries and a drift towards authoritarianism on the part of some governments, were among the threats facing journalists and media organizations in the region.
Keep quiet or we’ll lock you up
In countries that are free from conflict, journalists are relatively safe but are still closely monitored and strictly controlled by iron-fisted authorities. Saudi Arabia (up two at 170th) and Egypt (down three at 166th), acknowledged as stable countries and reliable allies of the West in the region, are the countries with the largest number of journalists in prison after China.
The control over news and information exerted by these two authoritarian governments has been confirmed by the coronavirus crisis. Starting with a wave of arrests of journalists in September 2019, the largest since Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi took over as president in 2014, Egypt has used its arsenal of anti-terrorist legislation to gradually tighten the screws on journalists, particularly since the start of the pandemic. Allegations of spreading fake news are used to justify blocking access to pages and sites on the Internet, and journalists who question official figures have had their accreditation withdrawn.
Control tightened over news and information
All means are used to control news and information. Before the coronavirus health crisis, the Egyptian government openly issued instructions about the death of former president Mohamed Morsi to news organizations in June last year and sent them official statements to publish.
In areas controlled by the Syrian government, the only permitted source of news is the official news agency SANA. Since the appearance of Covid-19, the Syrian health ministry has reasserted the agency’s monopoly over news and information about the pandemic.
The slightest hint of criticism, or any reference to cases of infection or corruption and poverty can earn even the most loyal of journalists a summons by the intelligence services or an indefinite prison term. The journalist Wissam Al-Tair, who was close to President Bashar al-Assad, was jailed for several months merely for having mentioned an increase in fuel prices.
News organizations are closely monitored using sophisticated hacking and espionage methods. Saudi authorities collected personal details from the Twitter accounts of thousands of people regarded as opponents of the government and hacked into the phone of Jeff Bezos, owner of the Washington Post, for which the assassinated Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi worked.
Storm of protest meets wave of repression
The second half of the year saw an unexpected wave of protests in several Middle Eastern countries, including Lebanon (down one at 102nd), and Iraq (down six at 162nd) which has joined the countries coloured black in the Index. Since October last year, the Iraqi media, which referred to the popular discontent in their coverage of the protests, were targeted by the authorities, militias and security forces which used live ammunition to break up rallies. The government has much to do with the climate of hostility: the media regulator has suspended nine TV channels, preventing them from broadcasting, and has also restricted Internet access.
This type of crackdown was inspired by the measures in force in Iran (down three to 173rd) where Internet access is regularly blocked and the government has imposed its own “halal Internet” inspired by Sharia, or Islamic law. This network allows it to restrict the flow of news and information, as occurred when large-scale public protests took place in the country. The creation of the Islamic Radio and Television Union, which has more than 200 members worldwide, also allows the dissemination of Iranian propaganda and fake news beyond its borders.
The proliferation of opposition movements has intensified the polarization of news media and distrust of journalists. In Lebanon, dozens of crews from pro-government and anti-revolutionary television channels were attacked by protesters. Other journalists have been attacked online by political community groups.
In Israel (88th), Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and his supporters regularly attack news organizations, accusing them of propagating fake news and left-wing propaganda, to the point where a journalist who broke a story about a corruption scandal was forced to request a bodyguard to ensure his safety.
At the same time, journalists in Palestine (137th) were finding it as difficult as ever to cover the regular Friday protests against Israeli occupation. Tension rose again after the announcement by US President Trump of the “deal of the century” peace plan and the number of those seriously injured has been rising.
Armed conflict, political instability and the crackdown on protests mean violence is ever-present in the work of journalists in the Middle East. Ensuring the safety of those working in news and information is more of a concern than ever in the region, especially as a number of governments have decided to boost their control over news and information using technological advances to strengthen their scrutiny of journalists. In a climate where the criminalization of journalism and regular crackdowns are the norm and governments are not amenable to the idea of free and independent news media, the very idea of journalism could disappear from the region over time.
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