tuque /tūk/ n Canadian English, var. toque [19th c. Canadian French, from the French toque, from the Basque tauka] 1 A close-fitting knitted cap, often with a long tapering end or tassel or pompom. 2 fig Something quintessentially Canadian.
souq /sūk/ n from the Arabic سوق var. souk 1 An open-air marketplace. 2 fig A central meeting place for the circulation of news and ideas.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Tuque Souq Year in Review

Reporters sans frontières (RSF) recently released its sixth annual World Press Freedom Index for 2008.

The World Press Freedom Index measures press freedom in countries around the world by assessing such factors as censorship, self-censorship, harassment of journalists (or worse), intervention by governmental or extra-governmental parties, and the legal infrastructure for protecting the freedom of the press.

And for the sixth year in a row, Iceland has the world's freest press. (Can ya spot him?) Canada rose to the 13th spot this year (not that we deserve it), highest among G8 countries, but aside from us and New Zealand, the top 20 spots are occupied by European nations, mostly of the Nordic and Baltic variety.

As for the Middle East, well, you won't find these countries hobnobbing with the likes of Jamaica (#21), Ghana (#31), or Cape Verde (#36). So as a way of wrapping up the year with a glimpse at all the countries in the region, the Tuque Souq presents:

(listed in order from least unfree to most unfree)
(warning: may contain self-referencing links)

46. Israel (regular Israel*)
So, Israeli press that is reporting in Israel (not the Palestinian territories) is the freest press in the region. Not bad, but that's a pretty glaring asterisk, considering that "the territories" is what most of the news is generally concerned with.

61. Kuwait
69. United Arab Emirates

After remaining unchanged in the rankings for a couple of years, these 2 Gulf countries of similar size and demography have started to separate, with Kuwait rising 2 spots and U.A.E. falling 4 spots. This is probably because the Emirates suffer from what pressreference.com calls the "practice of self-censorship" by the media, whereby journalists willingly print just the happy news. Kuwaiti journalists, while apparently freer than Emiratis, are still not as free as us to poke fun at these pointy things.

66. Lebanon
Up an impressive 30 spots in the rankings after 2008 saw a huge drop in the number of high-profile killings of journalists and activists in Lebanon. Starting a food fight with Israel was also a step in the right direction.

74. Qatar
Home to gajillion-dollar media empire al-Jazeera, Qatar still ranks below Haiti and Burkina Faso in press freedom.

89. Comoros
Tiny archipelago nation with an Arab government nabs nondescript 89th place in the rankings, and this hereby fulfills the Tuque Souq's pledge to write something about Comoros before the year is up. Actually, according to the democracy watchgroup Freedom House, Comoros is the only real "electoral democracy" in the Arab world, although one of its islands, Anjouan, questionably re-elected its president recently.

96. Bahrain
Little island with big football dreams is up 22 spots this year

105. Mauritania
Having risen an impressive 88 spots between 2004-2007 to a high of #50 last year (which was highest among all Arab states), Mauritania plummeted 55 spots this year after a nasty coup put a plug in democratization in this Saharan nation.

121. Algeria
122. Morocco

123. Oman
Arch press-unfreedom rivals Algeria and Morocco battled to a near draw, with Algeria edging out its neighbour at the tape. The on-again, off-again Algerian civil war remains one of the deadliest for journalists in history. Monarchical Morocco doesn't always approve of journalists criticising the king. Meanwhile, Oman is debuting on the index this year, which can only mean that Omanis just got press this year.

128. Jordan
King Abdullah II of Jordan, fresh off his YouTube campaign, recently met with Jordan's media community to promise more reform and more freedom. We have to applaud His Excellency for once again circumventing the bureaucracy of democracy and simply decreeing more freedom.

134. Djibouti
The country whose appellation makes it an easy target for unquestionably urbane puns, Djibouti is always a tough call for World Press Index gamblers. From a high of 96 in 2002 to a low of 145 three years ago, there seems to be an awful lot of scrutiny for a country whose president likes to be referred to only by his initials.

135. Sudan
Sudan, a country with a north vs. south civil war and and east vs. west civil war (that one's more of a genocide), and a country consistently rated as having one of the world's most corrupt governments, is actually rising in the rankings. Sudan now ranks better than Mexico (#140).

149. Israel (extra-territorial)
Referring to Israeli press freedom in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, this 'second Israel' fell 46 spots from last year thanks to increased Israeli military harassment of journalists. Hmm, if only there were strings attached.

155. Yemen
Sure, having near-total state control over the media might seem blasé to some autocracies, but Yemen is known for being a bit retro.

143. Tunisia
159. Syria
160. Libya

161. Saudi Arabia

From the 2008 report: "In Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s Tunisia, Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, [and] Bashar el-Assad’s Syria, the leader’s ubiquitous portrait on the streets and front pages of the newspapers is enough to dispel any doubt about the lack of press freedom. Other dictatorships do without a personality cult but are just as suffocating. Nothing is possible [for the press] in... Saudi Arabia if it does not accord with government policy."

146. Egypt
Egypt languished in 146th place as the report made special note of that country's crackdown on bloggers, including Kareem Amer, who was imprisoned for blogging negatively about Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Egyptian bloggers are an important part of the newsgathering in that country, while even high-profile editors are not immune from government crackdown.

153. Somalia
Unprecedented access to Somalia's pirate community probably contributed to this country's 6-point gain in the index.

158. Iraq
Iraq actually outranks a number of seemingly better-off countries. Though climbing to 158th place on the list, Iraq is singled out for the fact that over 200 journalists have been killed since the U.S.-led war and occupation began in 2003.

163. Palestine
About Palestine, last year's WPF index report had this to say: "The battle raging between Hamas and Fatah is the main cause of the large number of serious press freedom violations in the Palestinian Territories. Hostage-taking, arrests, physical attacks and ransacking of news organisations - the Palestinian media and the few visiting journalist are threatened from all sides." This year, with Hamas fully in control of Gaza, Palestine dropped another 5 spots, as journalists are harassed and accused of taking political sides or of being spies.

So that makes Palestine, which of course is not a country, the most unfree Arab country for the press. But we're still missing someone in the general area...

166. Iran
First off, the countries whose press is more unfree than Iran: China, Vietnam, Cuba, Burma, Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea. Secondly, one must wonder why the Ahmedinejad government spends so much time harassing bloggers when Iran's own clerics are bloggers. Thirdly, you have to reserve some respect for the achievement of a government so cunning that it has succeeded in convincing much of its public to be wary of its own media.

Finally, shouldn't any country that bans The DaVinci Code get an automatic ten-point bump in the index?

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2008 Middle East and North Africa press!

See you in 2009.

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