current affairs

Al-Jazeera verdict another blow for journalism

The imprisonment of three Al-Jazeera journalists in Egypt is yet ano

The imprisonment of three Al-Jazeera journalists in Egypt is yet another example of journalists across the Middle East being persecuted for daring to do their jobs properly and refusing to blindly swallow the narrative put forward by violent autocrats.

Mohamed Adel Fahmy, a duel Canadian-Egyptian, and Australian Peter Greste both received seven year sentences for “broadcasting false reports” which were apparently designed to damage Egypt’s image and promote the Muslim Brotherhood.

An Egyptian journalist, Baher Mohamed also received a sentence of seven years for this “crime,” with an additional three years for possession of ammunition.  The ammunition in question as far as I can tell was a spent bullet casing that he had picked up in the street.  It’s not exactly like he had a van full of AK-47s.

More journalists were sentenced to considerable jail terms in-absentia for broadcasting false reports. Al-Jazeera has, rightfully, defended its journalists and resolutely rejects the charges. 


The Reporters Without Borders group also slammed the verdict and sentencing.  The group ranked Egypt 159th in the world on its 2014 Press Freedom Index and it is hard to see the country moving up the table under the increasingly autocratic Sisi.


The Foreign Office has rightfully summoned the Egyptian ambassador in protest at this outrageous display of restriction on press freedom and it is hoped that the journalists will be released on appeal. 


Unfortunately this is not an isolated incident in one of the world’s worst regions for journalists.  Most of the incidents shockingly go unreported in the West.


A different truth

Syria already ranks as the most dangerous country in the world for reporters – it ranks 177th on the Press Freedom Index, only Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea rank lower.  


According to Reporters Without Borders the number of “News and information providers” killed in the country between the start of the civil war in March 2011 and the end of 2013 stands at 130. This number is likely to now be much higher.  Both Assad’s forces and the rebels kill journalists, with jihadist groups dispensing their own brutal, arbitrary brand of justice.


The rise of ISIS has further added to this already unacceptable body count and they have already began exporting their unique brand of media-relations to Iraq.  In 2013 they attacked a television station in Tikrit, killing five journalists.   


Iraq itself doesn’t exactly have a free press, ranking 153rd on  the Press Freedom index.  This is a good score compared to its neighbours, such as the absolute-monarchy and staunch Western ally Saudi Arabia (164th) and BBC-hating Iran (173rd).


Increasingly nations in the region are destroying free-speech in the region in favour of only the version of truth that suits their version of events.

The Middle East is just one area where this is happening.  In Mexico drug-cartels threaten and kill journalists who dare to write critically about them, in Russia journalists who oppose the Kremlin have a habit of turning up dead, I’m not even sure what is going on in Eritrea but given it is lower on the Index than North Korea, I can’t imagine it’s good.

Where does the United Kingdom sit in the press freedom index? A shameful 33rd. That could well get worse if new press regulations come into force.

What do you think about the ruling? Have your say in the comments section below.