A photographer is obstructed as people flee a Syrian Army attack in Idlib
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has just published updated analysis of press restrictions around the globe. Three Middle Eastern nations appear in the CPJ\'s 10 Most Censored Countries list
--Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran -- three nations where vast restrictions on information have enormous implications for geopolitical and nuclear stability.
Censorship has greatly intensified in Syria due to political unrest. Syria moved from ninth on CPJ\'s 2006 list to third in this analysis; Iran, unranked in 2006, shot up to number four on CPJ\'s new list. By barring international media from entering and reporting freely and by attacking its own citizen journalists, the Assad regime has sought to impose a news media blackout on a year-long military crackdown that has roiled the international community. Iran has mixed high technology techniques such as Web blocking with brute-force tactics such as mass imprisonment of journalists to control the flow of information and obfuscate details of its own nuclear programme.
Eiad Shurbaji, a Syrian journalist who fled the country in January for fear of his life, told CPJ: \"the censorship of the media existed far before the revolution, but it has increased since because president Bashar al-Assad wants to convey a particular picture to the outside world that the regime is fighting off terrorists who are causing the unrest”. He added: “another tenet of Syria\'s propaganda was that minorities would be at risk without the regime, as media censorship has played a huge role in keeping Assad in power.\"
Saudi Arabia, a new entry, which, like other Middle Eastern countries, has tightened restrictions in response to political unrest, makes up the last of the Middle-Eastern countries in the top ten.
The 10 most restricted countries employ a wide range of censorship techniques, from the sophisticated blocking of websites and satellite broadcasts by Iran to the oppressive regulatory systems of Saudi Arabia and Belarus; from the dominance of state media in North Korea and Cuba to the crude tactics of imprisonment and violence in Eritrea, Uzbekistan, and Syria.
A trait that all those on the top ten have in common is some form of authoritarian rule. Their leaders are in power as a result of a monarchy, family dynasty, coup d\'état, rigged election, or some combination.
Indeed, disputed legitimacy of leadership is at the heart of censorship and media crackdowns in many places. Syria has long been a tightly controlled country, but last year, when regular demonstrations began to call for the ouster of Assad, foreign correspondents were restricted and locals who reported on the uprisings were arrested; the dangerous task of reporting on Assad\'s brutal military response was left to courageous citizen journalists and foreign reporters who sneaked into the country.
Iran became vastly more repressive after the disputed 2009 election returned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power. Tehran, which once withheld subsidies and issued short prison sentences to keep critical journalists quiet, now closes news outlets, expels foreign media, imprisons dozens on lengthy terms, and seizes property. Saudi authorities, wary as regional uprisings ousted leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, added further restrictions in 2011 to the country\'s media law, imposed new regulations on Web publications, and banned at least three columnists who had written about the region\'s political unrest.
Lagging economic development is another notable trend among heavily censored nations. Of the 10 most censored countries, all but two have per capita income around half, or well below half, of global per capita income, according to World Bank figures for 2010, the most recent available.
To determine this list, CPJ said that its staff judged all countries according to 15 benchmarks. They included blocking of websites; restrictions on electronic recording and dissemination; the absence of privately owned or independent media; restrictions on journalist movements; license requirements to conduct journalism; security service monitoring of journalists; jamming of foreign broadcasts; blocking of foreign correspondents. All of the countries on the list met at least 10 benchmarks.
For this list, CPJ said that it considered only countries where restrictions are imposed directly by the state.