Let's imagine Egypt’s Al-Ahram with the headline: "Will the Egyptian Pound break the 40 barrier against the dollar?", or a headline by Saudi’s Okaz asking: "Is NEOM actually realizable?", or Syria’s Tishreen opening its pages with the title: "Where does Assad really stand on the return of Syrian refugees?"
At first glance, these headlines seem confrontational, we have become accustomed to equivocation, fear and reverence to “rulers” through an "official" press imposed on us all.
The answers to these questions are basic information that every citizen needs to plan for a better future for himself and his family. The role of the press is to present full information to readers about politics and the economy, and to hold the powers accountable for their performance. But the reality today is quite different. These real and necessary headlines are forbidden. Why? Because they question authority, and do not promote “official” policies and projects without reservation. Not to mention that these three newspapers are directly or indirectly controlled by the “rulers”.
The press, during short periods when many Arab countries had witnessed in their modern history, succeeded in securing a position of trust with public opinion, through the necessary information it once provided citizens about their lives, society and government policies, that is, about everything related to public affairs and security. This took place during stages when democracy or quasi-democracy were flourishing ideas in our societies, alas for a short period of time. But the installation of dictators and authoritarian rulers in power in most of our countries ended all this; these men only accept confirmation and endorsement.
Arab countries are in dire need of a free press, and a new partnership between people and power, a partnership based on trust and transparency and free access to information
In the past year, the Arab journalistic scene witnessed another record decline; Algeria turned journalists into "courtiers" according to the The Economist; Tunisia, which in 2021 ranked 73rd in the World Press Freedom Index, leading all Arab countries, fell back 21 places. In the UAE, a local newspaper was shut down after publishing a report on the high cost of living and the price of petrol. In Lebanon, which has long been a "paradise" for freedom of expression, the situation is worsening year after year, and we recently witnessed incidents of journalist harassment in the style of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
What is required?
Arab countries are in dire need of a free press, and a new partnership between people and rulers, based on a relationship of trust, transparency in dealings and free access to information.
We need journalism schools that produce journalists who are able to cover the concerns of their communities and societies with a constructive, critical mind, free of censorship.
We need journalism schools that produce journalists who are able to cover the concerns of their communities and societies with a constructive, critical mind, free of censorship. Journalists and media outlets should be held accountable for their words in specialized courts, not in the basements of intelligence units or in military courts. We need fair competition with the media owned by the rulers and their families, and we need a lift on the ban imposed on so many media.
A free press provides citizens with the information they need to form their decisions. It constitutes part of the movement against repression, and opens discussions on issues that the authorities seek to exclude from public debate. All of this is essential for building vested and democratic societies and to make citizens aware that life in their countries is possible, that they can invest in their future and the future of their children without fear.
Since its inception ten years ago, Raseef22 has clearly stood by popular movements aspiring for a better future, and sided with the more vulnerable and marginalized, demanding change to our reality — the reality of an oppressed people by a leadership that has brought the Arab world to the bottom of all development indicators, all of them.
Over ten years, Raseef22 has kept pace with popular movements throughout the Arab countries; our correspondents monitor all relevant events in our countries, presenting them despite all the harassment, the accusations of treason, interrogations, the cancellation of travel visas and the prison sentences that our steadfast team face for carrying out real journalism work.
From large and complex issues, to intimate blogs speaking of courage and resilience, Raseef22’s team continues to work in order to convey how life is here.
Since its inception, Raseef22 has clearly stood by the popular movements aspiring for a better future, and sided with the weaker party that has no voice and is trying to demand change in the grim reality of the oppressed
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Freedom from fear is a fundamental human right. What future do you want for your children?
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