Can anyone imagine the reaction if Israel had sentenced a journalist to 50 lashes for writing an "instigating report"?

Can anyone imagine the reaction if Israel were to ban Al-Jazeera from operating in its territory?

Can anyone imagine the reaction if the Israeli government were to ban TV channels from broadcasting live events from Israel?

These are legitimate questions in light of what has been happening recently in some Arab countries.

In Saudi Arabia, a journalist was recently sentenced to 50 lashes for allegedly instigating protests against a government electricity company following a series of power cuts.

Fahd al-Jukhaidib, who works for the daily Al-Jazeirah newspaper, was also sentenced to two months in prison for his "crime." He will be whipped in public in front of the electricity company offices.

The verdict has drawn little attention in the West and prominent organizations that claim to defend freedom of the media have yet to voice their opinion on this matter.

The silence of the international media and the absence of a strong response from human rights and media organizations have obviously encouraged Arab dictators to continue and even step up their repressive measures against journalists and various media outlets.

The case is unlikely to spark widespread protests in the West, most likely because Israel is not involved. Had the poor journalist been sentenced by an Israeli court, his case would have made it to the front pages of the mainstream media in Europe and North America.

Who cares if an Arab government mistreats or tortures an Arab journalist? Besides, which Western journalist would have the courage to travel to Saudi Arabia to cover a story that could get him or her into trouble with Saudi authorities?

Earlier this week, the Moroccan government suspended the operations of the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera news network over what it called "unfair reporting."

The Moroccan government accused the TV channel of "seriously distorting Morocco's image and manifestly damaging its interests, most notably its territorial integrity."

The decision was taken in response to Al-Jazeera's reporting on the Western Sahara, a former Spanish Colony that was taken over by Morocco in 1975.

While the latest measure against Al-Jazeera drew sharp protests from the station and some Arab journalists, most Western journalists and media organizations chose not to respond.

But when Israel announced a few years ago that it was considering punitive measures against some Al-Jazeera journalists, the move triggered an international outcry and drew strong condemnations from Western media outlets.

Egypt, the largest Arab country, deserves an award for excellence in suppressing freedom of the media and harassing journalists. Egyptian authorities have banned satellite channels from broadcasting live events or distributing news reports to other television stations.

The Egyptians have also blocked the transmissions of four privately owned stations, issued warnings to two others, and canceled a popular talk. Last month, newspaper editor Ibrahim Issa was fired for publishing an article written by one of President Hosni Mubarak's political rivals.

The crackdown on Egyptian journalists and media outlets comes ahead of the parliamentary elections in the country.

Such practices against the media have always been commonplace in the Arab world. But the feeling among Arab journalists is that the Arab dictators have decided to step up the campaign against the media. As long as the West continues to turn a blind eye to such practices, independent and brave journalists will become an endangered species in the Arab world.

Related Topics:  Khaled Abu Toameh receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free gatestone institute mailing list

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