Arab media, especially which is state-sponsored, has traditionally enforced tight curbs on how Arab governments and their policies are portrayed.
But now, many journalists in the region have reported increasing pressure not to comment on US foreign policy, further limiting their ability to report on events in the Middle East.
Official Arab media is now required to be cautious when covering war zones where the US army is engaged. Reporting or writing in a way that is seen as taking the side of the enemies of the US army is a red line that many dare not cross.
Ali Kinana, a Qatar-based Iraqi columnist, says: “In the past, journalists knew they could not come near the government, so they poured their passion into covering peoples’ struggles against colonialism and occupation.
“Now, they have even lost that. Many Arab governments do not want to annoy the US embassy in their countries, since those embassies are rather intelligence arms whose duty is to ensure the implementation of US instructions. They interfere in the media on a daily basis. How is that all right?”
Resistance or insurgency?
Official Arab media outlets have stopped referring to the US presence in Iraq and Afghanistan as an occupation, and replaced the word resistance fighters with insurgents to describe fighters opposed to the US presence in those two countries. Many in the Arab and Muslim world do not share that interpretation of US actions.
A Jordanian journalist at one of Jordan’s leading newspapers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “We are banned from contacting those who oppose the US-sponsored political process in Iraq.
“Iraqi resistance is a red line in our editorial policy, just like any US paper, but that does not mean the journalists in Jordan are with the US. On the contrary, they felt outraged by the US presence in Iraq and would like to shout that it is an occupation not an invitation.”
Aljazeera.net contacted several journalists to speak about the topic but they declined fearing it would affect their jobs.
Ahmed Salim, a journalist from the United Arab Emirates and former deputy information minister for the UAE, said: “After the attacks on New York and Washington, the Americans have utilised their mainstream media to distort the difference between terrorism and resistance.
“After the occupation of Iraq, media around the world have dedicated themselves to putting those who fight the US army in Iraq in the same bag as al-Qaeda, in order to label them as terrorists.
He explained that in an ironic twist, Hezbollah, referred to as a terrorist organisation by the US, adopted the American approach to the media and labelled any Lebanese and/or Arab who opposed it as a traitor.
“We can see that instead of spreading free speech, the US’s short-sighted policies have consolidated controlled media.”
However, there has been more room for the Arab media to express the true feelings of Arab thinkers and authors in regard to the occupied Palestinian territories.
Satisfying the masses
Usama Saraya, the chief editor of al-Ahram newspaper, the mouthpiece of the Egyptian government, said the difference in language used in covering the Palestinian territories, Iraq and Afghanistan has nothing to do with state censorship.
“Everybody is agreed that Israel is occupying Palestinian land, but not everybody sees the same thing happening in Iraq. Due to the general sentiment and public opinion, it is not possible to satisfy everybody when it comes to Israel.
“In my opinion, there is no resistance in Iraq. Some believe there is a resistance in Iraq but, honestly, I do not see that,” Saraya says.
Kinana says the US pressure on Arab thinkers and writers has forced them into self-censorship.
“The new rules are not about being a member or financer of a banned group or party, it has gone way beyond that,” Kinana says.
“Just expressing feelings, showing sympathy, or expressing a view that does not go along with what the US embassy wants, might get you in trouble.
“The trouble we mean here is something like Guantanamo or a secret prison. In other words, free speech to them is to say what pleases them.”
Although Iraq and Afghanistan are no less important than the Palestinian territories to an Arab and Muslims audience, many writers and journalists avoid writing about them and in order to put food in their children’s mouth.