2006 Press Freedom Index released

There is marginal improvement in this year’s Bahrain Press Freedom Index released by RSF. In 2006 we gained a few places up to 111, but to put this rank in perspective, I have compiled the following table to show how bad our position is compared to Kuwait, the Emirates and Qatar:

Press Freedom Index 2006

Country
Bahrain11112314311767
Kuwait738510310278
Saudi Arabia161154159156125
Qatar8090104115-
Emirates77100137122-
Oman---152-

What affected our rank in 2006 is mainly the vicious attack by the Ministry of Information on websites and blogs which it arbitrarily blocked without any recourse to the judicial authorities. Their are about 20 sites blocked now (listed in the sidebar) most probably due to their political or (ir)religious content, thereby, the Ministry continues to try to control our thoughts through the use of telex-age modes of thinking in the Internet 2.0 age!

What can we deduce from these rankings now?

Very basically, it seems that a “non-democratic” countries like Qatar and the UAE are outstripping us consistently. Their rankings are improving year on year. The only other democracy on this side of the Gulf, Kuwait, is also exhibiting wonderful improvements over the last 5 years. While we, in Bahrain, the supposed democracy that was once lauded by the Almighty Bush are continuously on the decrease, our current position of 111 is no where near the Euphoric rank of 67 achieved in 2002.

We have a lot to do to regain that rightful position, and the formula for re-achieving that position is rather simple in theory and practice:

  • remove the current Press & Publications Law by Decree number 47 of 2002
  • remove jail penalties on journalists and freedoms of expression
  • ensure that only the independent judicial authorities have the power to shut down papers and judge libel cases rather than the Minister of Information
  • remove the restriction on Internet sites completely, any blocking attempt is futile anyway as it is extremely easy to go beyond a block in the first place using simple and available tools

Is anyone listening?

26 thoughts on “2006 Press Freedom Index released”

  1. What can we deduce from these rankings now?

    …and

    Very basically, it seems that a “non-democratic” countries like Qatar and the UAE are outstripping us consistently.

    Well, one conclusion could be that just having some sort of “democracy” is not a guarantor of all the rights that are normally associated with “democracy”.

    It all depends on how that disputed word, “democracy”, is interpreted. In my opinion it just goes to prove that democracy with just one of the ingredients that are normally considered part of the whole package, i.e. Liberal Democracy , is not enough to guarantee everybody the right to enjoy full personal freedom.

    And on the same subject, I have noticed that my own country, Denmark, has dropped from a first place to a nineteenth. And why?

    Denmark (19th) dropped from joint first place because of serious threats against the authors of the Mohammed cartoons published there in autumn 2005. For the first time in recent years in a country that is very observant of civil liberties, journalists had to have police protection due to threats against them because of their work.

    The text above is from Reporters Without Borders

    I think a see a common denominator, the one that stems from religious intolerance.

  2. While Kuwait, Qatar, Emerites for the most part show steady improvement … Saudi shows steady decline in Press Freedom.

    Wander what happened in 2003 that sent these whirling? :ermm:

  3. I’ve actually got ALL RSF’s reports linked in the header of the table, click the year to read that year’s report. Click “Bahrain” to read my own coverage over the years on the subject.

  4. Interesting how the UAE is not far in the ranking from the USA.

    The United States (53rd) has fallen nine places since last year, after being in 17th position in the first year of the Index, in 2002. Relations between the media and the Bush administration sharply deteriorated after the president used the pretext of “national security” to regard as suspicious any journalist who questioned his “war on terrorism.” The zeal of federal courts which, unlike those in 33 US states, refuse to recognise the media’s right not to reveal its sources, even threatens journalists whose investigations have no connection at all with terrorism.

  5. I think a see a common denominator, the one that stems from religious intolerance.

    milter, quick question “common denominator” referenced between Denmark’s situation and Bahrain in particular or over the whole index?

  6. Is there any way to know which events in particular contributed to Canada’s 4.5 points? Why is Israel’s score so poor?

  7. And on the same subject, I have noticed that my own country, Denmark, has dropped from a first place to a nineteenth. And why?

    Denmark (19th) dropped from joint first place because of serious threats against the authors of the Mohammed cartoons published there in autumn 2005. For the first time in recent years in a country that is very observant of civil liberties, journalists had to have police protection due to threats against them because of their work.

    The text above is from Reporters Without Borders

    The rank dropped because some of death threats against some cartoonists?

    In order for this metric to be objective, it should measure the amount of government interference with freedom of the press – not pressure from the public on what to publish and what not too. Afterall, it is a measurement of how freely one may publish before – you guessed it – the government comes after you.

    -Ibn

  8. Ibn,

    You’re wrong. Read what Reporters Without Borders write about “How the index was compiled”

    Part of the text:

    Reporters Without Borders compiled a questionnaire with 50 criteria for assessing the state of press freedom in each country. It includes every kind of violation directly affecting journalists (such as murders, imprisonment, physical attacks and threats) and news media (censorship, confiscation of issues, searches and harassment).

  9. Mahmood, although I full heartedly agree that the level of freedom should be increased, and mainly the level of government transparency and corporate goverance however, I don’t think the immensely censored internet in countries like the UAE or the diminished press freedom in every country other than Bahrain and Kuwait for local news … is anywhere close to where we are… Basically we suck but most of them suck more, and I don’t think these guys really took everything into account while creating their index…. nevertheless …. we have a long way to go to move towards e-tendering, better government portals, and sites… clearing licensing criteria, and yes larger freedoms for the press and blogs …. and everything electronic! … and ofcourse clearer, and more complete land zoning….

  10. Ibn,

    This is not only a report about how much or little governments interfere with the freedom of the press. It’s about how working conditions are for journalists in general, and to them it doesn’t matter where the threat comes from.

  11. Milter,

    Ibn,

    You’re wrong.

    About what Milter? My statement on what constitutes an objective analysis of a nation-state’s respect for freedom of the press? Or on how RWB did their analysis, which by the way, I made no comment on.

    Yes, its pretty obvious that RWB did in fact count number of threats, murders, etc, in determining their score. No one is contesting that. What I am contesting, is how this constitutes an objective measurement of freedom of the press for a country.

    First off, look at the big variance on score that is caused by counting number of murders, death threats, etc, that come from specific individuals affecting specific jounalists who have talked about a specific topic at a specific time. All the while, the actual score reflecting how the government views freedom of the press remains unaffected, yet in its totality, the entire score goes down, because of a few nuts who took issue with a particular topic, even though the climate returns to near-normal after all the hooplah has died down.

    Im not saying that merging the two statistics is wrong – but the label certainly is. Right now, this particular table probably serves better as a “Journalist Safety/Heckling Index”, than a “Freedom of Press Report”. If I was a journalist, and I wanted to know about the safest places to do my job, I would eat this table alive, and yes, journalist-murder statistics from rougue gangs would be very important to me. If however I was an activist who was concerned about which country ligitimizes journalistic freedom, then I would be concerned about the biggest gang in town – the government, and how they view my profession.

    And thats entirely the point. The government has a say on the journalist’s profession. Rougue people and those who threaten have a say on the jounalist’s voice usually on a specific topic, in a specific time. (Yes, the latter also applies to government, but they are many many order of magnitudes greater).

    -Ibn

  12. I think a see a common denominator, the one that stems from religious intolerance.

    mitler, i don’t really think the situation in bahrain is religious intolerance only. I can’t speak about Denmark, but in my opinion Bahrain’s recent decline is more politically oriented than religious. The lack of freedom with regards to addressing political issues and Press and Publications Law (As mentioned by Mahmood) take much more Precedence over religious intolerance.

  13. I really doubt, this Index is correct. Qatar? press freedoms better than Bahrain? UAE? Kuwait? PAALLLEEEEEZE!!!

    Where in the gulf is it possible for a newspaper to attack any ministry or minister openly?
    Where is it in these gulf states that journalists aren’t restricted in their writings?
    The only reason you find less court cases against them is probably because no one would even think of writing against the government.

    Mahmood, before attempting to analyze the index, please think of the whole issue logically… Compare articles printed in newspapers from Bahrain with other newspapers in the GCC. Do you not read Al-Wasat? How much more press freedom do you want?

  14. Well, looking at the criteria used to produce these indices, Bahrain’s press law, the unremitting attacks on and blocking of websites all carry heavy penalties as far as the weighting is concerned.

    Yes we do have some leeway compared to others, but can you honestly say that banning the discussion and publication of such a damning report such as Bandargate as part and parcel of press freedom? Especially that I am heard that there possibly is version 2 – much more detailed and damning – is about to be released? What would the government do then, re-slap a gagging order and pretend that nothing will happen as repercussions or they will hope that “they’ll only forget in a little time?”

    Look at the situation in Kuwait and its press & publications law, don’t you think it is a lot better than what we have? Look at how Al-Jazeera is broadcasting in Qatar, look at Al-Arabiya in the Emirates and the papers in those countries too.

    The essence of such a report is to look at how it was constructed, and for the parliament and authorities to launch thorough investigations to fix the situation so that when the next year comes around, we will be in a much better situation.

    These indices matter as far as business is concerned as they are looked at very closely before deciding where to place that FDI.

    My suggestion is to continue to press both parliament and the government to fix this situation regardless of how much better we perceive ourselves to be. We know we have big problems and challenges in this area which must be honestly addressed.

  15. While no one’s going to disagree that greater press freedom’s a good thing, the rankings of Gulf states look random, especially when you compare the domestic coverage of Bahrain’s press with that of its neighbours. Anyone watch Al Jazeera for its coverage of Qatar’s local politics? In fact I think impressive new Bahraini blogger Lulu’s much closer to the mark in her recent review of the local papers.

    The problem I have with RSF is its relationship with Otto Reich, who oversaw the US government’s PR work in the ‘dirty wars’ in Central America in the 1980s. US funded paramilities killed tens of thousands, while Reich covered their backs briefing for them in Washington. Reich was persona non grata in the 1990s, but George Bush brought him back to oversee US PR in Latin America and Reich’s now providing overt and covert financing to RSF – presumably with US strategic aims in mind in central and south America.

    I don’t know what sort of organisation RSF is, but if it was a genuine human rights group it wouldn’t have anything to do with this death squads’ PR man.

  16. Mahmood,
    Not disagreeing with you on the how bad our situation is here in bahrain, but isn’t it also possible to assume that one of the reasons that Qatar and the UAE are higher up the index is due to the fact that their governments haven’t been put into the test of being heavily critized and corruption being pointed out by the public?

    I mean one of the reasons we have this amazing P&P Law is due to the fact that people have started openly pointing out corruption by specific individuals in the government and royal family, whereas there haven’t been any serious attempts (as far as i know) in either Qatar nor the UAE to do such a thing?

    If that were to happen, they could be pushing into effect similar laws to protect themselves, wouldn’t they?

  17. Ibn, you wrote:

    In order for this metric to be objective, it should measure the amount of government interference ……..
    Afterall, it is a measurement of how freely one may publish before – you guessed it – the government comes after you.

    I was just trying to point out that this report is not a report about restrictions on the press imposed by governments only. A journalist’s job is to write and publish and it doesn’t matter to him where threats or intimidations come from, the result is the same: He can’t share his findings or opinions with others. And those that suffer from that is people like you and me. We are being denied the opportunity to see all aspects of certain cases.

    Rougue people and those who threaten have a say on the jounalist’s voice usually on a specific topic, in a specific time

    …and that’s exactly what this report is all about. It’s about how working conditions were for journalists in specific places during a specific time.

    The fact that journalists in some countries were only affected by one case doesn’t mean that they will have forgotten about it two months later and continue business as usual. They will think twice next time they would like to write about the same or similar subjects. So will other journalists and the result is a self-imposed censorship with the same effect.

  18. nurox, you wrote:

    mitler, i don’t really think the situation in bahrain is religious intolerance only.

    You’re right. It was wrong of me to make it that simple. It’s also caused by the fear of those in power to lose that power.

  19. nurox you could be absolutely right of course. I would suggest; however, that we should not get ourselves distracted from the real content of the report in which vast areas of potential improvement for Bahrain’s press freedom is shown.

  20. Anon, Reich might be sullied, I don’t know him and never came across this information myself, so thank you for educating me; however, that should not detract us from the essence of the report.

    Ask yourself this question: is the press in Bahrain free? If not, how can it be made more free?

    I suggest what is outlined in the report could be used to answer the second question particularly, and for that RSF should be thanked for providing us good, though unpaid consultancy.

  21. mitler,

    You’re right. It was wrong of me to make it that simple. It’s also caused by the fear of those in power to lose that power.

    Let me rephrase that for you, it’s MAINLY caused by the fear of those in power to lose it.

    The previous elections showed that, the “war” (if you’d like to call it that) wasn’t against religious figures as much as it was against Liberals, and “religious” men once again took a good share of the Parliment seats, be it justly or not.

  22. nurox,

    Apology accepted. I know it wasn’t intentional and I can assure you, it takes a lot more to offend me :-)

    Let me rephrase that for you, it’s MAINLY caused by the fear of those in power to lose it.

    You may be right. But don’t underestimate the power of self-censorship. It may not be as visible and direct as the direct ban on writing about for instance the Bandar case but it’s still there.

    The Constitution of Bahrain states in Chapter 3, Article 23, about the freedom of expression:

    Freedom of opinion and scientific research is guaranteed. Everyone has the right to express his opinion and publish it by word of mouth, in writing or otherwise under the rules and conditions laid down by law, provided that the fundamental beliefs of Islamic doctrine are not infringed, the unity of the people is not prejudiced, and discord or sectarianism is not aroused.

    How is that to be interpreted and by whom? Does it mean that no criticism is allowed at all and what would be considered criticism?

    How often do you see critical articles about named Islamic scholars or articles questioning the role of religion in politics or education in newspapers in Bahrain?

    I don’t think the reason for the scarcity of such articles is because everybody thinks the situation is fine as it is. I think the reason is fear of losing one’s job or even worse.

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