Middle East: A bad month for media freedom

It’s not going well for maverick, boundary-pushing journalists this month.

In Morocco edgy magazine Nichane closed its doors, with the publisher claiming it was the victim of an advertising boycott ordered by the royal palace.

In Syria, a young female blogger who was mysteriously arrested 10 months ago, has officially been accused of being a spy for an unnamed foreign power. It remains unclear whether Tal al-Mallohi’s arrest or the espionage accusation has anything to do with her  blogging activity.

Several journalists are facing jail time in Turkey, and the murder of a prominent journalist three years ago remains unresolved with no convictions.

In Saudi Arabia, the religious police have ominously started training on how to monitor Facebook, Twitter and other digital forms of social media. The Saudis, along with fellow Gulf monarchy the United Arab Emirates, continue to block the Blackberry messaging service.

Finally in Egypt Al-Dostour newspaper publisher Ibrahim Eissa, Egypt’s best and most provocative political columnist,  was abruptly pushed out of his job and potentially blackballed.

There are two national Egyptian elections on the horizon — parliamentary next month and a crucial presidential vote next year. The authorities seem to be tightening the screws in preparation. The latest sign: new restrictions on SMS text messaging, which is frequently used as a mobilisation tool by activists. Independent newspaper Al Masry Al Youm (disclosure, I work for its English language edition) speculated that the new restrictions would,

hinder the logistical capabilities of Egypt’s political opposition, which has come to depend on SMS messaging to mobilise supporters for public protests and demonstrations.

A government spokesman’s priceless response? “We are not making life difficult. We are making life organized, that is all.

The very next day, the exact same telecommunications regulatory agency struck again. This time it moved to establish firmer control over all live television news broadcasts from Egypt.

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