The New Arab's press freedom series launches in Westminster

The New Arab's press freedom series launches in Westminster
Politicians, journalists and activists gathered in Westminster on Wednesday to discuss the future of free media in the Middle East, in a panel discussion organised by The New Arab.
3 min read
16 Jun, 2016
The New Arab is banned in three countries in the Middle East [Getty]
The New Arab kicked off its new series on press freedoms in the Arab world on Wednesday at the UK's House of Commons in London, where it hosted activists, politicians and writers to discuss the challenges currently facing journalists in the Middle East.

The seminar, entitled Press Freedoms in the Middle East: Challenges & Prospects is the first of many that aim to engage discussion on what can be done to promote free media in the region - a matter of crucial importance following the stranglehold on press liberties in the aftermath of the Arab Spring revolutions of 2011.

"The conditions of civil liberties and freedom of expression are today more than scaring," said panel member Fatima el-Issawi of the London School of Economics' Middle East Centre.

"However, there is a new momentum taking place, not that of fear but that of defiance. The defiant are not crowds, they are not the majority but they represent a new wave of hope," she continued.

Also on Wednesday's panel was Melody Patry, Senior Advocacy Officer at the Index on Censorship, Abdulrahman Elshayyal, CEO of The New Arab, Tommy Sheppard, the Scottish National Party MP for Edinburgh East, who was the event's chair.

The discussion explored the effects of press censorship, the current challenges facing writers in the Middle East and looked in some detail at the curbing of free journalism in Egypt under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

During the proceedings, The New Arab's founding aim of committing itself to the Arab Spring's spirit of optimism was emphasised.

The panel is the first in a series of events on media freedom [TNA]

Mr Elshayyal affirmed the organisation's endeavour to deliver independent and objective coverage of the Middle East, especially amid efforts by some of the region's regimes to polarise and distort popular opinion.

Fighting censorship

Since being launched in 2014, The New Arab's effort to deliver independent news has been met with opposition from some of the region's governments.

The organisation's website and print publication are currently banned in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE.

"In late December last year, three Arab countries decided to block us. This meant that people living there cannot access our website except through proxy sites. This prevented them from access to one of the very few existing independent outlets," Elshayyal said.

"This obviously is intended to intimidate us. It is meant to force us to change our editorial line… possibly even to scare audiences away. But, so far we have kept doing our job in the belief that Arab people deserve better…and our audiences have rewarded us by coming back."

"I would like to tell you of course that we are up against a media that is vindictive; we have regularly supported the causes of free press in the region and highlighted injustices done to journalists," he continued.

The decision to censor The New Arab has attracted the attention of parliamentarians in the UK and the European Union, who we are fighting against restrictions to media freedoms in the Middle East.

In this effort to combat censorship, The New Arab has received cross-party support from British parliamentarians, including MP Tom Brake (Liberal Democrat) and Natalie Mcgarry MP (SNP).

In a letter to Saudi Arabia's UK ambassador, Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf al Saud, Brake called upon the kingdom to adhere to article 19 of the Universal Declaration for Human Rights, which highlights free media as a fundamental freedom.

"I would therefore like to urge your government to lift the ban on al-Araby al-Jadeed, one of the largest and most prominent Arabic news websites, as well as other websites that cover the news," the Liberal Democrat MP urged in his letter.

A letter to the same effect was written to the UAE's UK envoy by Glagow East MP McGarry, who also expressed her firm support for press freedoms in the Middle East.