Arab countries are all in the bottom two-thirds of this year's Press Freedom Index issued by the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF). Kuwait has the highest ranking, in 60th place out of 175, closely followed by Lebanon.
This year, for the first time, Israel – in 93rd place, down 47 places – is outstripped by Kuwait, Lebanon, Comoros and the UAE. "Arrests of journalists (and not only foreign ones), their conviction and in some cases their deportation are the reasons for Israel’s nose-dive," RSF says. "Israel’s media are outspoken and investigate sensitive subjects thoroughly, but military censorship is still in force."
In Yemen, "the Salih government has drastically curtailed freedom of expression since May" and in Syria press freedom has also slipped: "Although there was less recourse to physical violence against journalists, the situation was very worrying, with repression steadily tightening its grip."
Libya rose slightly in the league table, though "its already limited tolerance of free expression suffered setbacks".
In Iraq, journalists face fewer threats to their safety but now "have to cope with hostility from officials and politicians ... Abusive prosecutions and defamation actions against newspapers that expose corruption are now common."
Repression increased in Algeria and Tunisia, while Morocco continued to fall in the rankings for the third year running: "The royal palace has become more vigilant about the 'red lines' that the press must not cross ... As with other regimes, financial reprisals are becoming the preferred weapon for use against journalists who go too far. Exorbitant damages awards now pose more of a threat to the Moroccan media than prison sentences."
Rankings of Arab countries (out of 175)