The meaning of freedom of the press and freedom of expression are different across countries. In the U.S we understand the freedom of press and expression as our right protected by our Constitution. These freedoms give us the ability to say, write, blog, broadcast, and publish just about anything with protection from the law. This, however, is a luxury. A luxury we take for granted. In the case of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) the “freedom” of press and expression are surveilled by governments, warring parties, or influential political individuals who have connections to large businesses who own the various forms of media. In an effort to provide a general view of expression and the press, I selected two countries to look at specifically. While these two countries are not representative of the entire MENA region, I believe they begin to highlight the issue of the how and what information is spread.
A large portion, about 90%, of the media is closely tied to the state. These broadcasting channels are owned by large corporations who have been connected to President Erdogan. With these close ties, the media sources controlled by these larger corporations generally reflect the thoughts and positions of the government. The population in Turkey is turning away from the larger national stations to more local stations which include, Halk TV, Tele1, and Sözcü. They also turn to international news websites such as BBC Turkish, VOA Turkish, and Deutsche Welle Turkish. Though these local stations are a source of somewhat bias free information, they are under political pressure from the government and in some instances targeted for prosecution. In terms of information spread through social media, a bill, that amended Turkey’s “Internet Law” Law No. 5651, states that “foreign social network service providers whose services are accessed from Turkey more than 1 million times a day appoint a permanent representative in Turkey…” This law targeted social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and YouTube to appoint representatives in Turkey in order to comply with Turkish internet restrictions. With various entities within the government who are heavily influenced by the politics of said government, journalists looking to publish factual information often find that they are faced with legal actions such as getting press passes stripped to full on censorship.
I believe a quote from the Reporters Without Borders index best illustrates the relationship between the press, the public, and government. It states, “journalists are commonly forced into the service of one of the parties involved in the conflict, to the detriment of editorial independence.” This properly sums up the ability to spread information throughout the country. While there is plethora of media outlets in Libya, many journalists and reporters fled the country. Those who did remain found protection from the government by publishing highly partisan content that typically favored the politics or the military and thereby favoring the government. Because of such an influential government, the information that spreads is filled with propaganda, hate speech, or disinformation. Disinformation is a big concern for the country because it calls into question what is true and false and also deteriorates the trust that is usually held between the press and the public. A law passed in 2012 called Law 37 made the spreading of “‘false or vicious news or propaganda’ that harms ‘military efforts to defend the country, terrorizes people, or weakens the morale of citizens’” a criminal offense which was punishable by “an unspecified amount of time”. This law also specifically targeted political speech that “glorifies the tyrant (Muammar Gaddafi)” or insult the Libyan institutions. Later the same year, the Libyan Supreme Court decided that Law 37 was an unconstitutional restriction on free speech. Though fighting the restrictive nature of the government, independent journalists and media outlets still strive to report fact-based information.
Though I’ve only researched 2 countries out of the whole MENA region, I found that Libya and Turkey reflect standings on expression and the press that are similar to those of other countries in MENA.