Bloomberg News Hosts Panel on Press Freedom

With the rise of conflict in North Africa and the Middle East, concern for press freedom has intensified.

Bloomberg News Thursday evening hosted a panel with the Committee to Protect Journalists to discuss CPJ’s 2013 report on press freedom in North Africa and the Middle East, which was recently published. Those in the audience found a copy of the report on their seat upon arriving.

Among the panelists were Faysal Itani, an Atlantic Council fellow; Sherif Mansour, Middle East and North Africa coordinator for CPJ and Honey Al Sayed, an exiled Syrian welfare host.

The panel was moderated by Indira Lakshmanan, foreign policy corespondent for Bloomberg.

The panel discussed the role of the press in Middle Eastern and North African regions, which is largely controlled by the regimes in power or opposition movements. Al Sayed shared her story of being host of the first privatized radio show, “Good Morning Syria,” in Syria in 2005. As the opposition gained traction, the station was forced by Bashar Al-Assad’s regime to act as a propaganda arm, denouncing the rebel movement.

Her show became increasingly regulated by the regime. She faced threats when she didn’t praise it. The station also endured threats from the rebels, who wanted the station to stop broadcasting. Facing increasing danger from both sides, Al Sayed decided in early 2012 to leave and come to the U.S.

Al Sayed’s story, as Lakshmanan pointed out multiple times, was not much different than the stories of many of the audience members.

The panel also discussed the importance of social media and citizen journalists, who they said have provided almost all the coverage of the conflict in Syria. Very few journalists are able to travel to Syria from an outside country, leaving most of the coverage to Syrians with Twitter, Facebook or YouTube accounts.

The panel was hopeful for increased press freedom in Middle East and North Africa, though they said it may be at least a decade before some countries, such as Syria, see an increase.