Qatar ticks up Reporters Without Borders press freedom index for second year

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For the second year in a row, Qatar has moved up the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, while the Middle East region as a whole has come under fire for not respecting journalists’ rights.

Qatar now ranks 110th in the 2013 World Press Freedom Index, up from 114th, surpassing the UAE, which fell two spots to 112th, for the first time since 2006.

But Qatar is still far from the 74th place it held in 2008. It also continues to trail Kuwait, which is 77th.

Last year, Jan Keulen, director of the Doha Centre for Media Freedom, attributed the relatively low rankings to the absence of an up-to-date media law. The same issue holds true today, he told Doha News.

A new draft of the media law, which hasn’t been updated since 1979, has garnered criticism at home and abroad for vague wording that bars critical reporting on Arab and friendly countries. It would also penalize news outlets for running anything that could be deemed offensive to Qatar’s ruling family or damaging to national interests.

GCC fares poorly

This year, Qatar fared better than most GCC countries, including Oman, which fell 24 places to 141st amid social and economic protests.

There, “some 50 netizens and bloggers were prosecuted on lèse majesté or cyber-crime charges in 2012. No fewer than 28 were convicted in December alone, in trials that trampled on defence rights,” the report states.

It is unclear why the UAE did not face a similarly steep drop in the rankings.

Last year, the country passed a sweeping cybercrime law, dismissed an American journalism professor for what he called a lack of self-censorship and expelled Gallup Abu-Dhabi, US-based National Democracy Institute and German think tank Konrad Adenauer Foundation for criticizing its policies.

The index once again put Finland in the top spot went to Finland, with Eritrea rounding out the bottom at 179th. Syria, the deadliest place for journalists last year, was also near the bottom, at 176th. Other GCC countries continue to dwell in the bottom of the rankings: Bahrain jumped eight spots to 165th, and Saudi Arabia fell five spots to 163rd.

Here’s the full report:

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