The call by four Arab states — UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Egypt — for Qatar to close news network Al Jazeera is clearly motivated by a desire to control the media in the region and silence reporting of stories that these governments would rather not see exposed.
Al Jazeera has brought the world news from the Arab Spring and many of the recent important moments from the region. Including the closure of Al Jazeera in a list of demands that Qatar “should” comply with to end a diplomatic crisis is about reducing media freedom in a region where it is already threatened.
“From its treatment of blogger Raif Badawi to its tightly controlled media environment, the Saudi authorities must not be able to dictate access to information for the public in other countries. Al Jazeera and press freedom must not be used as a bargaining chip,” Rachael Jolley, editor of Index on Censorship said.
None of the nations involved have a free independent media. Bahrain regularly targets critics, journalists and the one remaining opposition newspaper in the country, Al Wasat. Saudi Arabia sentenced blogger Raif Badawi to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes for his “criminal” writings. Egypt has regularly tried journalists on accusations of terrorism. The UAE, too, curtails discussion of its domestic policies. UAE Federal Law No. 15 of 1980 for Printed Matter and Publications regulates all aspects of the media and is considered one of the most restrictive press laws in the Arab world, according to Freedom House. Reporters Without Borders ranks them all below 118, with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain all below 160 out of the 180 nations it covers.