Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Censorship in the Middle East

Zachary Berry

When Parvez Sharma created his second movie, A Sinner in Mecca, he broke two big taboos in the country of Saudi Arabia. First, he was a gay man who traveled to the holy city of Mecca. This is an action punishable by death in Saudi Arabia. Second, he filmed inside Mecca, which is strictly forbidden.

Footage of Mecca is rare, and often heavily regulated by the government when it does exist.
Source: Huffington Post
However, it should not be surprising that creating a documentary in Mecca would be considered illegal. Censorship in Saudi Arabia is unfortunately often the norm rather than the exception. In fact, the Committee to Protect Journalists listed Saudi Arabia as the third most censored country in the world, behind only North Korea and the small African country of Eritrea. Also included on the list was Iran, which was ranked as the seventh most censored country in the world.

From controlling what media enters the country to controlling what media leaves the country, many Middle Eastern nations are heavy on censorship. The regimes in place often attempt to hold onto control and power in increasingly intrusive and controversial ways. The Courier of Montgomery County recently ran a report a few months ago that stated Saudi Arabia bailed out a struggling Lebanese TV network. In exchange, the network would have to adopt a pro-Riyadh editorial stance.

Middle Eastern nations also censor much of the popular media that enters their borders. Gearnuke reported that a highly censored version of the video game The Witcher 3 was created for and released in several Middle Eastern nations, including Oman, Egypt and Jordan. The attempts to censor this type of content are not always as  successful. According to the Guardian, people living in Middle Eastern countries asked returning friends and family members to smuggle in copies of 50 Shades of Grey.

If it means less copies of 50 Shades of Grey, they can take smuggle in as many copies as they want as far as I'm concerned.
Source: Wikipedia
The spread of the rather colorful novel was also accelerated by its availability via online resources. The internet has made it easier than ever for citizens of Middle Eastern nations to acquire information. However, the government and regimes put in place have threatened to take away their citizen's access to the Internet, and therefore more of their freedom of speech.

Many residents of Middle Eastern nations use the Internet as a means of creating discussion around controversial topics. For example, many Youtube videos were created to address the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia. However, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported that the General Commission for Audiovisual Media began to monitor Youtube video content to ensure that it adhered to a strict set of guidelines put in place by the government. By doing so, the Saudi government stunted the growth of discussion on the issue.

In fact, most censorship that takes place in Middle Eastern countries is not religious in nature, but rather political, according the International Business Times. As Sharma discussed in his interview with NPR, the actions of a few set groups of people are creating a negative perception surrounding the religion of Islam.

This kind of continuous censorship does not only discourage thoughtful discussion, but also inadvertently, or sometimes purposefully, perpetuates stereotypes. And those are two big taboos in the world of journalism.

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