From Beirut with love



 
Please allow us to introduce ourselves. We're a brand-new website with a network of correspondents throughout the Arab world. Our modest mission: to defend press freedom and freedom of expression wherever we can find it.
 
By Menassat.com's Editorial Team
 
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The view from our offices in Beirut. © S.M. / arabimages.com

Sure enough, there is censorship in Lebanon.

Somewhere in the towering General Security building in Beirut (photo) is a man with a black marker who routinely crosses out any mention of Israel in foreign publications. (Esteez, if you are reading this: we would love to interview you some day.)

There is also a special unit whose job it is to attend every single theater premiere. (The Lebanese know never to go to the premiere - it is the toned-down version for the state censors.)

But that's about it for censorship in Lebanon.

It is the reason why we are building the Menassat.com website here and not in, say, Damascus - where we would surely be shut down -, or in Baghdad - where we would likely be shot down.

Out there, in the rest of the Arab world, governments are constantly coming up with new ways to muzzle their own citizens.

Editors and journalists in Egypt have been jailed recently for publishing reports about president Hosni Moubarak's health.

In Syria, last month, blogger Roukana Hamour was dragged out of her home and threatened at gunpoint in front of her three children.

Her crime: having exposed corruption on her blog.

The Arab blogosphere enjoyed a brief moment of freedom, as governments were late in catching up with the phenomenon.

But that has changed too.

With the help of U.S. and Israeli software companies, Arab regimes are now actively tracking anonymous commentators and putting forum administrators in jail for allowing them to post on their websites.

In some cases, it is suspected that government agents are themselves posting libelous comments on websites they don't like - just to have an excuse to shut them down.

And this is in countries like Kuwait and the Emirates, relatively free places by regional standards.

It led Kuwaiti blogger Bashar Al Sayegh to tell our editor Rita Barotta in despair: "When are our governments going to understand that the people never want to harm their own country? We are not the enemy!"

(Rita, by the way, is not Italian. She's 100 pct. Lebanese.)

In places like Iraq, the challenges are different.

The Iraqis are enjoying freedom of the press for the first time in their history but it comes at an extremely high price.

Since the 2003 invasion, 206 journalists and media assistants have been killed in Iraq, most of them Iraqis.

You can find out their names here.

One of the latest victims was Sahar Al Haideri, a journalist working with the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in Iraq.

Ironically, Sahar's last article was about threats by Islamic militants to kill all journalists and photographers in her hometown of Mosul.

That's just some of what's been happening in Arab media.

It is a pretty grim world out there.

But there is hope too.

The people at Global Voices Online are making it possible for the voices of Arab bloggers to be heard all over the world.

Journalists and bloggers everywhere continue to outsmart government censorship by keeping one step ahead of their surveillance techniques.

The University of Toronto's Citizen Lab recently released "Everyone's Guide to Circumventing Internet Censorship" to help them do that more effectively.

In Morocco, the so-called 'Targuist sniper' has sparked a bit of a revolution by filming corrupt police officers and posting the videos on YouTube.

Other young Moroccans are following his example, and for once it looks like the authorities are treating them as witnesses rather than as the usual suspects.

Bloggers in Egypt are going to jail for exposing important stories that the traditional media ignore.

Despite the risks, D-I-Y citizen and online journalism  is on the rise in the Arab world.

Indeed, a conference and workshop about citizen and online journalism in the Arab world is being held at the American University of Beirut in December.

All of the above, you can read about on Menassat.com.

"Menassat" means platforms in Arabic.

This means Menassat.com is for you.

You means every media professional in the twenty-two countries that make up the MENA region.

This includes bloggers, photographers, filmmakers, cartoonist, graphic artists, radio journalists and, yes, video snipers as well.

So check out our "Contribute" section to see how you can send in articles, photos, video or other media products for publication on Menassat.com.

Unlike many publications in the Arab world, we do pay for freelance contributions.

In short: we need you to make this work.



Also read:


A cry in the wilderness
Posted on 11/05/2007 - 14:53
Our editor in chief, Nidal Ayoub, reflects on freedom and why it seems to bother the region's leaders so much.

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