During the Gaza war, Al Jazeera was the only news outfit able to report on the carnage from the field, by virtue of actually being on-location, while the international media was forced to watch from afar by the Israeli government. Al Jazeera’s innovative “journalism 2.0” reporting was of course an embarrassment for the IDF, whose use of white phosphorous against the innocent civilians in Gaza was exposed for the world to see.
Now, Israel has reaffirmed its membership in that select group of nations who fear free speech and engage in censorship against the press, by censoring Al Jazeera in retaliation.
Israeli officials say they are taking measures to restrict the work of the Arabic television network, al-Jazeera, inside Israel.
The work visas of some al-Jazeera employees based in Israel will not be renewed, according to reports.
Al-Jazeera’s journalists will have limited access to Israeli news conferences and briefings.
The irony of this is that – like almost every other Israeli government action – it harms Israel more than it hurts Al Jazeera, because Al Jazeera routinely seeks out Israeli officials and puts them on television to argue the Israeli point of view in broadcasts across the Arab world.
The concept of free speech was never a “western” one – it is a universal principle, violated universally by western and non-western nations alike. Despite being (as the self-styled Defenders of Western Civilization insist) the “only democracy in the middle east“, Israel has now joined Egypt and Saudi Arabia in being just another middle eastern country that fears the power of the press and the opinions of its own citizens.
I humbly suggest that Israel’s government consider joining the effort by the Arab states to impose a regional authority to “regulate” satellite television. Their rationales are in perfect alignment.
But sarcasm aside – the US should do everything it can to promote an open and free press in the middle east, because there are tangible benefits for the muslim world and western world alike. Acknowledging that requires a certain maturity and faith in our principles. It would seem that Israel (and Europe, for that matter) have neither.
Related: Abu Aardvark’s extensive commentary on President Obama’s interview with Al Arabiyya. Also, Bartholomew discusses the hate speech laws of the Netherlands in the context of Euopean free speech (or lack thereof). I am struck by how the arguments of European countries to justify their restrictions on free speech and religion are so similar to those of the Arab states in seeking to muzzle journalists. As always, Marc Lynch and Arabic Media Shack are the best sources of commentary on the topic of Arab media.