The Only 3 Arab Countries Where Press Freedom Exists


Photo: ap

The recent news of missing journalists in Syria and an allegedly raped Libyan woman dragged from a press lunch may obscure fact there is still freedom of press in the Middle East. But it’s limited to only three countries in the Arabic speaking world, according to the Freedom House via Newseum: Lebanon, Kuwait and Egypt.

Freedom House assigns every country a number from zero (best) to 100 (worst), based on the country’s freedom in print, broadcast, and internet news.

Across the world, most people live in countries considered to be only “partly free,” or “not free.” There are 69 countries considered to have complete freedom of the press, mostly located in the Americas and Europe.


Censorship score: 55 out of 100 (partly free)

The constitution of Kuwait protects freedom of the press but only 'in accordance with the conditions and in the circumstances provided by law.' It is still against the law to publish anything insulting God, the prophets, or Islam, to criticise the emir, or to call for an overthrow of a regime. Breaking any of these laws can result in jail time.

Kuwaiti newspapers are some of the most vocal in the Arab world, but the Ministry of Information must licence any publication, and the government has used this power to attempt to shut down publications. The Kuwaiti government also owns nine local radio and four television stations, and censors all books, videotapes, periodicals, films and publications that may be considered morally offensive.

Source: Newseum


Censorship score: 55 out of 100 (partly free)

Lebanon's constitution protects freedom of the press. However, violence against journalists has caused self-censorship to a certain extent. Many of Lebanon's newspapers and magazines are owned by influential people and politicians, and journalists are prohibited to insult their own president and other foreign leaders. Those charged with press offenses may face prosecution in a special publications court.

Lebanon's active broadcast media scene comprises seven television stations and more than 30 radio stations that offer various perspectives. A variety of newspapers operate in Lebanon, and about 24 per cent of the population regularly accesses the Internet as of 2009.

Source: Newseum


Censorship score: 60 out of 100 (partly free)

There are more than 550 newspapers and magazines in Egypt, however, they are strictly controlled by the government. Individuals can not hold more than a 10% stake in a newspaper, and the government controls 99% of all newspaper retail outlets. The president appointed the editors at the top three newspapers.

However, with the recent change of power in Egypt, there is hope for even more free press in the country.

Source: Newseum


Censorship score: 63 out of 100 (not free)

As long as it does not 'violate the law,' Jordan's constitution states journalists have freedom of expression and speech. However, television news broadcast have only government opinions on controversial issues, and anything in print that insults religious faith are forbidden and can result in fines or jail time.

Source: Newseum


Censorship score: 65 out of 100 (not free)

In 2005, Iraq's constitution guaranteed freedom of the press as long as it did not 'violate public order and morality.' However, there are old, harsh laws that still remain, with harsh penalties.

Self-censorship is also common among journalist in Iraq for fear of punishment. This prevents citizens from getting all the news they may need.

Source: Newseum


Censorship score: 66 out of 100 (not free)

In Morocco, the constitution guarantees freedom of the press, however, with strict rules. Any criticism of Islam or the monarchy are strictly prohibited and result in fines, prison, or even violent crimes against the journalist.

Because journalists fear harsh punishment, self-censorship is common.

Source: Newseum


Censorship score: 66 out of 100 (not free)

All newspapers in Qatar are owned by 'members of the ruling family or business men with close business ties to the ruling family.' There are only two news channels in Qatar, Qatar TV and Al-Jazeera.

Al-Jazeera is known for covering mostly international news, and has angered many Arab countries such as Algeria, Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Al-Jazeera rarely covers controversial issues in Qatar.

Source: Newseum


Censorship score: 71 out of 100 (not free)

The government continues to impose restrictions on freedom of the press, although there are clauses in the country's constitution guaranteeing freedom of the press. Bahrain's government has significant control over publications, even though they are privately owned.

Self-censorship is also common due journalists' fears of legal problems.

Source: Newseum

United Arab Emirates

Censorship score: 71 out of 100 (not free)

The United Arab Emirates is known for having some of the strictest laws against the press in the Arab world. Freedom house says, while UAE's constitution 'provides freedom of speech and of the press, in practice, the government uses its judicial and executive powers to restrict those rights.'

Press laws also say journalists can be prosecuted under the penal law, and the state can censor publications prior to distribution.

Source: Newseum


Censorship score: 80 out of 100 (not free)

While Yemen's constitution protects the freedom of the press, it is not practiced. Journalists are prohibited from criticising the head of the government, or the image of Yemen, or Arab heritage. Publications that are pro-government tend to be favoured and those publications who show any government opposition face obstacles in maintaining their licenses.

In 2009 alone, the government shut down or put heavy pressure on 20 publications.

Source: Newseum

Saudi Arabia

Censorship Score: 83 out of 100 (not free)

Saudi Arabia's basic law does not provide for freedom of the press. In fact, the law allows for all types of media to be censored by the government.

Self-censorship is common because journalists fear harsh punishments like fines, detention, dismissal, and harassment.

Source: Newseum


Censorship score: 83 out of 100

Syria's constitution allows for freedom of the press, however it is not practiced. The government has strict control over all print media.

Journalists who violate the press laws can face one to three years of prison, and up to $20,000 fines.

Source: Newseum


Censorship score: 85 out of 100 (not free)

Tunisia's constitution does not specifically define laws protecting freedom of the press, and the government does not respect those that are present. The government often censors news and if a journalist writes an offensive statement about the leader, he could face up to five years in prison.

Many journalists are hesitant to report on controversial issues because of harassment and the fear of arrest.

Source: Newseum


Censorship score: 94 out of 100 (not free)

Libya is one of the least free countries in the world when it comes to the press. The only countries with stricter policies than Libya are North Korea, Burma, and Turkmenistan.

The government has strict control over journalistic practices and journalist can face harsh punishments if they go against them. Punishments can be as harsh as a death sentence.

Source: Newseum

BONUS: The United States

Censorship score: 18 out of 100 (free)

The U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights provide the foundation for freedom of press. State laws and court rulings have also upheld this right, giving the press broad protection from libel and defamation suits that involve commentary on public figures including the President.

Source: Newseum

Despite censorship in Qatar, Al Jazeera is great at reporting on the rest of the world

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