The Middle East and North Africa continued to be one of the world’s most difficult and dangerous regions for journalists, who in many places were trapped between rival factions, belligerents, radical groups and governments that behave in an extreme fashion and are often adept at their own terror strategies.
In spite of this stark analyses of journalism in north Africa, Tunisia has come in for commendation for its impressive performance on the journalism watchdog, Reporters Without Borders’ latest report on press freedom.
The north African nation jumped 30 places from its previous ranking to 96 out of 180 countries on the press freedom index.
The marked improvement was attributed to the country’s successful transition to democracy. The report authors note that in spite of the many challenges that remain in Tunisia, “a successful transition to democracy has facilitated media reform initiatives in the past five years.”
Head of Reporters Without Borders’ North Africa office, Yasmine Kacha, conceded that north Africa and the Middle East have become dangerous places for journalists but expressed delight that Tunisia was offering a ray of hope for the region.
“Tunisia today occupies the 96th position in the world. It is the first in the Arab world. It must be remembered that the situation in the Arab world is a very difficult one. So we must put the Tunisian situation in perspective” she said.
While not losing sight of the number of lawsuits filed against journalists in Tunisia in 2015, Yasmine Kacha was however quick to point out that the “number of abuses declined” in that country even though violence continued to be on the rise, including from the police.
“Generally, the Tunisian climate was favourable for the consolidation of freedom of the press and the emergence of an independent press’‘ she added.
Press freedom in Libya which has been overrun by militias and until recently had rival governments, dropped by 10 places to 164. The report noted that it required “enormous courage” to report from countries such as Libya, Iraq and Yemen “amid the growing impunity and acute political crises.”
It also noted that journalism was stifled by leaders of countries “at peace” (often a police-state peace) such as Egypt which dropped by one place to rank 159.
Algeria which is in a similar situation as Egypt also experienced a decline of 10 places to rank 129 out of 180 countries.
The rankings, published annually by Reporters without borders since 2002, measures the level of freedom available to journalists in 180 countries using these indicators – pluralism, media independence, media environment and self-censorship, legislative environment, transparency, infrastructure, and abuses.