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Report paints bleak picture of Middle East media

CAIRO, Egypt—Compared with its regional neighbors, only Lebanon surpasses Egypt's freedom for the print media. The Committee to Protect Journalists, an international watchdog for press freedom, this month released a report that painted a bleak picture of media in the rest of the Middle East and North Africa.

In 2005, according to the report, Iran banned four newspapers and sentenced an Internet blogger to two years in prison. Religious authorities in Saudi Arabia harassed and detained reporters who questioned the clerical establishment. Three Tunisian journalists, two of them in jail and one under house arrest, staged hunger strikes to draw attention to their cases. Similarly dismal reports came from Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and Sudan.

Even in Egypt, the report found, authorities continued their harassment of journalists during the incendiary election season. And media observers noted that the government still had a long way to go easing restrictions on Egypt's TV and radio stations—an important note in a country with an illiteracy rate that hovers around 50 percent.

"Autocratic governments are realizing that the number of people ready to pay the price for following principles of free speech and free expression is increasing," said Kamal Labidi, a Cairo-based researcher for the Committee to Protect Journalists. "In this part of the world, rulers have been in power for decades, and it's hard for them to accept the idea of letting journalists do their job without restrictions. It's very difficult to loosen their grip when they've been controlling the media for decades."

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(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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