Not all the signals are quite so encouraging. As Bandar was speaking, troops from Yemen’s elite Republican Guards were intimidating reporters in the newsroom of that country’s leading independent daily, and the editor of an Internet site in Egypt — where dozens of journalists, including one of my own students, have been brutalized in election violence — was being arrested. Bandar’s own paper, meanwhile, has been through a series of editors who have misjudged the constantly shifting line between what is politically acceptable and what is not. And in supposedly democratic Iraq, the most lethal place on earth for reporters, news organizations are being shut down by local officials, corrupted by the Pentagon and pressured by the insurgents, even as journalists themselves are being detained, kidnapped and murdered.
As one reporter from pan-Arab satellite channel MBC recently put it of his role in covering a region wracked by violence and persecution where media freedom can be an oxymoron: “We are the first victims — after the real victims.”
But at-risk Arab journalists persevere because they know something their tormentors don’t seem to fully realize: A new Mideast media is being born. And, while birth can be bloody and protracted and difficult, once begun, it cannot be easily reversed.
Lawrence Pintak, a former CBS News Middle East correspondent, heads up the TV journalism center at The American University in Cairo. His latest book, Reflections in a Bloodshot Lens: America, Islam & the War of Ideas, will be published in January.