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Freedom as a Value in Arab Media Perceptions and Attitudes Among Journalists

Freedom as a Value in Arab Media Perceptions and Attitudes Among Journalists

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Published by Matt J. Duffy
By HUSSEIN AMIN
From Political Communication (2002)

This article examines the development of freedom of the press and censorship in Egypt and the Arab world. Further, it discusses patterns of influence on freedom of the press and their impact on Arab journalists. It finds that press freedom in Arab countries and the performance of Arab journalists are still threatened by a censorial political culture, one that develops in an environment usually dominated by a single political party. Overt censorship and self-censorship are commonplace in the Arab news media today and journalism education programs, just as the media themselves have, in fact, been recruited into a national enterprise for the production of propaganda. The technological changes sweeping the world will increase the pressure for change and make issues of censorship obsolete as journalists find outlets for reporting
among transnational media.
By HUSSEIN AMIN
From Political Communication (2002)

This article examines the development of freedom of the press and censorship in Egypt and the Arab world. Further, it discusses patterns of influence on freedom of the press and their impact on Arab journalists. It finds that press freedom in Arab countries and the performance of Arab journalists are still threatened by a censorial political culture, one that develops in an environment usually dominated by a single political party. Overt censorship and self-censorship are commonplace in the Arab news media today and journalism education programs, just as the media themselves have, in fact, been recruited into a national enterprise for the production of propaganda. The technological changes sweeping the world will increase the pressure for change and make issues of censorship obsolete as journalists find outlets for reporting
among transnational media.

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Published by: Matt J. Duffy on Aug 19, 2013
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125
Political Communication,
19:125–135, 2002Copyright
ã
2002 Taylor & Francis1058-4609/02 $12.00 + .00DOI: 10.1080/01957470290055402
Freedom as a Value in Arab Media:Perceptions and Attitudes Among Journalists
HUSSEIN AMIN
This article examines the development of freedom of the press and censorship in Egypt and the Arab world. Further, it discusses patterns of influence on freedom of the press and their impact on Arab journalists. It finds that press freedom in Arabcountries and the performance of Arab journalists are still threatened by a censorial political culture, one that develops in an environment usually dominated by a single political party. Overt censorship and self-censorship are commonplace in the Arabnews media today and journalism education programs, just as the media themselveshave, in fact, been recruited into a national enterprise for the production of propa-ganda. The technological changes sweeping the world will increase the pressure for change and make issues of censorship obsolete as journalists find outlets for report-ing among transnational media.
Keywords
Arab journalism, Arab media, censorship, freedom of expression, pressfreedom, self-censorship
The media have long played an important role in political discourse in the Arab world.In the past few years, Arab journalism has begun to face forces of change; globalizationprocesses have had a significant impact on Arab media by providing transnational Ara-bic and non-Arabic print and broadcast options for Arab audiences (Amin, 2000). Arabmedia institutions and personnel have begun to see the need to keep up with globalinformation systems that now address and hold the attention of Arab masses and strengthenthe forces of democracy (Alterman, 1998).
Forces Affecting the Development of Arab Media
Throughout the development of Arab print media, certain conditions have affected theprocess of development, such as a weak economic base, close ties to politics and politi-cal movements, and other factors, including Arab nationalism, the development of apoliticized Islam, and cultural norms (El Affendi, 1999). Arab journalists are now beingchallenged and to some extent influenced by global forces flowing to the region throughtransnational media, namely freedom of expression, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. This situation has created a paradox for Arab journalists in that most Arab
This article was presented at the conference on “The Ethics of Journalism: Comparison andTransformations in the Islamic-Western Context,” Berlin, March 2001.Hussein Amin is Professor and Director of the Graduate Program, Department of Journalismand Mass Communication, American University in Cairo.Address correspondence to Hussein Amin, Adham Center for Television and Journalism,American University in Cairo, Tahrir Sq., Cairo, 11511 Egypt. E-mail: h_amin@aucegypt.edu
 
126Hussein Amin
governments, authoritarian and opposed to change, resist notions of freedom of the pressand freedom of expression (Amin, 1995). Freedom as a value in Arab media culture is afunction of both internal and external factors affecting the perceptions and attitudes of Arab journalists.
Censorship and Arab Media
Radio and television journalism are controlled more closely than the print media. Evenstrong advocates of free expression are themselves troubled by the power of electronicmedia. Unlike the print media, the broadcast media can bypass illiteracy in the Arabworld and appeal to mass audiences, including children; this has resulted in a differentset of standards for censorship of the broadcast media. In general, electronic media areabsolute monopolies under direct government supervision; the governments of most Arabstates not only own but also operate and control the broadcast institutions (Boyd &Amin, 1993). Historically, governments have set the media agenda; radio and televisionhave served as a means to promote their political, religious, cultural, and economicprograms and to filter what receivers hear and see (Kamalipour & Mowlana, 1994).Arab journalists have operated in an environment affected by frequent censorshipsince the early development of the Arab press. By the end of the Ottoman era, whichdrew to a close at the culmination of WWI, Arab journalism did not reach beyond thelimits of a traditional system of relationships between the political class and the rest of the population, governed by principles of obedience and respect for the political estab-lishment. At first, Turkish authorities dominated even those newspapers whose existencedated from the mid-18th century. The postwar colonial powers in the region, the Britishand the French, adhered to the same principles in their relations with the local press(Kelidar, 1993, p. 123).
History of Freedom of the Press in the Arab World
The weakness and the relative inconsistencies of the current Arab press systems havebeen exacerbated by postindependence conditions (Merrill, 1995). After many Arab statesgained independence, the move toward press freedom and freedom of speech was abortedby putting an end to the multiparty system and to the independent press (S. Essoulami,personal interview, January 26, 2001). Nearly the entire regional press system sufferedfrom a lack of press freedom from the mid-1950s to the mid-1980s. Gamal Abdel Nasserof Egypt, who came to power in 1954, realized from his first days as a ruler that politi-cal parties controlled the press and non-Egyptians owned most publishing houses. In1960, Nasser nationalized the Egyptian press, including all privately owned press orga-nizations, forcing them to surrender their ownership to the National Union (
 Al Itihad Al Ishtraki
), and reimposed a censored press system after a brief lifting (Dabous, 1993). Intheory Nasser’s successor, Anwar el Sadat, adopted an open attitude towards the press,but in practice his press policies were ambivalent (Napoli & Amin, 1997). Sadat re-moved censorship to a large degree but retained government control of the media. Presi-dent Hosni Mubarak—unlike his two predecessors—moved toward more press freedomand lifted many restrictions (Amin & Napoli, 1997).Similar developments were experienced in Syria and in Iraq, where the Ba’athistscarried out actions against the press resembling those undertaken in Egypt. In the NorthAfrican countries, the media became an instrument for political legitimatization andindoctrination. Algeria introduced one-party rule, and journalists became civil servants
 
Freedom as a Value12
answerable to the socialist revolution. Although the multiparty environment created in1989 introduced a private press, it has failed so far to promote dialogue and possiblereconciliation with the Islamic Salvation Front (
Gabhat Al Tahrir Al Islamieh
) (Azzi,1998). The Bourkiba regime in Tunisia tolerated an opposition press but succeeded inmaking it loyal to and supportive of the government in spite of the fact that such orga-nizations were generally privately owned. The King Hassan regime in Morocco came toa similar accommodation with its anti-government press; the media in general have beenconditioned by the political principles of the monarchy (Azzi, 1998).
Arab Journalists and Freedom of Expression
Many journalists of this era fled their countries in search of better opportunities and ahealthier press environment. These journalists saw a favorable chance in the oil boom inthe Gulf states during the 1970s and took up positions in newspapers created by newoil wealth. There, however, they encountered the traditional and rigid press censorshipsystem of the Gulf countries (S. Essoulami, personal interview, January 26, 2001).Arab journalists have the potential to promote change and influence public reactionto change, but they still face many problems and challenges, among them the political,cultural, and economic environment in which the Arab media function and perform. Atthe end of a millennium marked so strongly by the effects of technological change, journalists, publishers, and other media practitioners in the Arab world continue to bevictims of harassment and political pressures, including dismissal, censorship, restraintson travel, physical assault, threats, arrest, detention, torture, abduction, passport with-drawals, and exile (S. Essoulami, personal interview, January 26, 2001). In addition, journalists everywhere in the world find themselves in the midst of an information andcommunication revolution; they must perform and compete not only for their own per-sonal survival but also for the good of the media. However, as nations around the worldprivatize media systems, restructure media industries, realign and merge their mediaenterprises, and revitalize freedom of expression to succeed in a shrinking world, Arab journalists remain handicapped by worn-out political systems, unchanging economic models,inferior media structures and performance, and the absence of the freedoms needed toadvance their media (Amin, 2000).The political culture of the Arab world determines the success or failure of the Arabmedia. Along with such problems as low salaries, a lack of adequate legal protection,excessive bureaucracy, and administrative constraints that affect journalists’ performanceand make them vulnerable to possible conflicts of interest and outright corruption, moregeneral economic, political, and cultural concerns also limit their freedom of expression.Although all constitutions in the Arab world clearly guarantee freedom of expression(Hafez, 1993) along with other general freedoms, the laws also usually include numer-ous restrictions that give the government the authority to act against any violations (Napoli& Amin, 1997). Moreover, the structural constraints of the Arab world’s political sys-tems, specifically the penetration and domination of the government in all sectors of society, economics, and politics, hinder development of a free press by influencing theminds of journalists who may deal with any issue of relative sensitivity (AbuZeid,1991).
Political Culture in the Arab World
Political scientists describe the term “political culture” as the values, norms, beliefs,sentiments, and understanding of how power and authority operate within a particular

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