Media's nadir

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The Independent Online
The Arab media is in a sorry state. If it played its most credible role in opposing colonial role in the Middle East, it is now at its nadir - supporting local dictators, censoring its own reports, accepting bribes from the rich and powerful, acting as a mouthpiece for ruthless regimes.

King Hussein, that most "trustworthy" of pro-Western Arab leaders, has recently closed down 13 weekly newspapers, many of them Islamist. Lebanon's 16 freelance television stations have been cut to four - all owned by prominent members of the Lebanese government. In Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia, criticism of the head of state is seen as treachery.

In Tripoli, Cairo, Algiers (where more than 50 journalists have been killed by Islamists), Tunis and capitals of the Gulf states, journalists are imprisoned for the mildest criticism. In Lebanon - where the press is still comparatively free - and Jordan and Palestine, writers have been locked up. The Saudi-owned international Arab press - especially Al-Hayat and Asharq al-Awsat - have some freedom.

But the Saudi-owned Orbit channel brought about the collapse of BBC's Arabic television service over a programme about the kingdom.

Israel cannot be left out of the equation. Local censorship means that most accounts of the attempted murder by Mossad of a Hamas leader in Amman are preceded by the words "foreign media are reporting ..."

Yosef Lapid, an Israeli journalist, this week described the censorship as "an infantile game" - but at least he could say it.

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