Press Freedom Index for 2013, or the Salute to the Kuwaiti Royal Family
Every year, the international organization Reporters without Borders releases its annual Press Freedom Index. And every year, the same headlines are shared in Western media focusing only on those countries that dare defy Western political will. This year was no exception.
But whenever I see a survey that ranks countries around the world in terms of press freedoms or likability or any other serious or silly criteria, I focus on the Middle East region because it is an area I know quite well, which enables me to judge the entire credibility of the survey or ranking process.
I have noticed, for example, that Freedom House, which is supposedly specialized in ranking the status of freedom worldwide, has favored countries that are aligned with the US regardless of the standards of freedom in that country. Anti-communist regimes have historically been rewarded by Freedom House. But Freedom House is an American “institution” and America is used to patriotic and festive standards in political standards. But Reporters without Borders is an international organization with a “progressive” reputation.
If you look at the ranking of Middle East countries in this year’s survey you will notice the same problems of political bias in ranking. So, according to this year’s annual Index, Syria and Iran received the worst ranking of all Middle East countries. To be sure, Syria and Iran don’t deserve a good status in such a survey, but what a coincidence that those two countries that are most opposed to the political orientations of Western governments would receive such a “prominent” low ranking?
And why are Syria and Iran so close together when the press situation in those two countries is not the same. There is a more diverse political press in Iran, although criticisms of the regime or the Supreme Leader are not tolerated. But criticisms of Iranian presidents are allowed in the Iranian press while such criticisms are not allowed in Syria. There are differing political views in Iran that are reflected in the Iranian press (although they are allowed to reflect the different political views of the ruling elite and not of the population at large). The Syrian press does not reflect differing political views of the regime because the regime is not allowed to offer different political views. But it is quite curious that those countries are placed so closely together when both regimes are not completely the same.
One also notices that Cuba and North Korea and China are also placed in the very bottom group of the survey, which is fine but leaves many questions about the standards and criteria of the survey.
For example: Why is Saudi Arabia placed ahead of the Syrian and Iranian regimes when it is clearly one of the most tightly controlled presses in the whole region? The Saudi press are largely under the control of Saudi princes and they are not allowed to offer any disagreements with the royal family whatsoever.
And how could Egypt receive such a low ranking by Reporters without Borders, receiving rank 158 while Jordan receives rank 134? And, comically, the UAE is far ahead of most Arab countries at rank 114? How could UAE press be placed ahead of Iran, or even of Syria? The Egyptian press is rich, diverse, and dynamic. A variety of viewpoints and criticisms of the head of government is tolerated despite attempts by the government to muzzle the press, while the UAE has never tolerated even mild criticisms of the rulers.
By what standards is RWB making such clearly political judgment? And Qatar is given status number 110? Who could believe that Qatari press, which is not allowed to touch on Qatari issues, is more free than the Egyptian press? And why do close dictatorial allies of the US receive such a preferential treatment in this (and other) survey?
And by what logic does the Kuwaiti press (which adheres to the standards of banning any offense or criticism or insult against the ruler) be given the advanced status of 77 while Lebanon, which has clearly the freest press of any Middle East country be given the rank of 101? Who will ever believe that Kuwaiti media are freer than the Lebanese media, which since 2005 adhere to few limitations or restrictions? No head of government and no Middle East leader is immune to criticisms or insults in the Lebanese press, despite the attempts by Saudi royal family to put all media under its tight control, and despite the attempts by the Syrian regime to control the Lebanese media over the years.
This survey, and others like it, show beyond a reasonable doubt that Western NGOs often suffer from the glaring political biases of Western media: that they are quite susceptible to the political preferences and inclinations of Western governments.