A growing cadre of journalists is pursing assertive reporting on the deterioration that they see and experience daily, and which represents, for many of them, a more acute threat than the battles over radical Islam that dominate American coverage of the region.
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Arab journalists work amid some of the world’s most challenging environments. Terrorists and militias, arbitrary arrests and harassment, autocratic governments, and a lack of documents and data are just a few of the challenges they face on a daily basis. And yet, despite these conditions, extraordinary work is being done by investigative journalists in the Arab world.
More than 320 journalists from the Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf met in Amman in early December for the 7th annual Forum for Arab investigative journalists, the largest ever. The ARIJ annual meeting has become the main networking forum for investigative journalists across the Arab world. In spite of an increasingly hostile media environment, many Arab journalists are still engaged in in-depth reporting, pushing against the narrowing borders of free reporting, and raising standards for documentation.
The majority of the Arab press — whether available in print or online — depends largely for their news on what national or international press agencies produce. The only real investment is placed in supporting columnists whose opinions and analysis reflect the particular editorial line of the publisher and the owners of that outlet. This disproportionate support for columnists rather than reporters can best be seen when you ask any follower of Arab media to name a particular news reporter or investigative journalist connected with a particular journal.
The lights of free speech are being steadily extinguished across the Arab world, heralding a new era of ignorance, intolerance, and repression. Saddest of all, the majority of Arabs — who saw free speech as the only gain from the Arab Spring upheavals – now seem willing to accept the loss of this universal human right, in return for promises of stability and economic prosperity.
What does it mean to be a professional journalist in a Syria fragmented by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, the interim Syrian government and Syrian Opposition Coalition groups, not to mention being under the mercy of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and its likes. The straight answer is: “An assumed agent”, “traitor,” or “spy for the crusaders” and deserving death, whether the journalist is Arab or foreign.