Capital Scooper: Freedom of Expression Shrinks Worldwide


I have returned from an enlightening journey to Vietnam and Cambodia. Neither country is free from the taint of political and corporate corruption and public restlessness. However, both nations have come a long way in economic reforms and modernization efforts. America's, and before that France's, wars in Southeast Asia have passed from the limelight to shadows. The new generation of young citizens of these countries have forgotten the details and are looking forward to integration with a blooming but troubled global civilization.

Opinion: However, the temperature of politics worldwide is rising. Opinion-driven social media (without a face) is steering dense populations comprised of competing interests to embrace strongmen leaders (often backed by billions of dollars), hoping that decisive policies, moral or amoral, will create more order and certainty in their lives. Casualties of this march to security are transparency, freedom of expression (free speech), family breakdowns and disintegration, variable justice, the compromise of education and science, religious and ethnic intolerance, and individual despair.

Here I briefly address the fate of a "free press." I am a constant critic of the mainstream media in the US. That is because, as an editor and journalist for decades, I have observed a public media that is increasingly a pawn of the commercial entertainment industry. The emphasis in the news is increasingly emotional rather than rational, considered and unbiased. However, a free press remains a guarantor of some transparency and a check on the abuse of power.

Journalism, today, is increasingly facing a new menace, other than the mediocrity of the general public's thirst for entertainment. The political fires now burning in many places across the globe, even in the US, are attempting to consume information; and it appears that political operatives (even world leaders) are engaged in nefarious, even brutal, plots to kill the messengers.

News. Last week in Washington DC (at a National Press Club headliner luncheon), Director General of Al Jazeera Dr. Mostefa Souag pled with journalists and varied policy wonks including members of the World Affairs Council to be warier of the hotter winds in the political climate.

Al Jazeera Media Network (AJMN) is a Middle Eastern multinational multimedia conglomerate and is the parent company of Al Jazeera (and related networks). The networks' news operations currently are based in more than 100 bureaus around the world, the second largest outlet producer of any media company in the world after the BBC (British Broadcasting Corp.).

At the request of the Trump Administration, this media group was ordered to register in the US as a "foreign agent." At least 11 employees of this media company have been killed so far while acting on behalf of the news gathering functions.

Of great significance also and bearing ominous implications for both political and journalistic integrity worldwide, only a short time after Mr. Souag's talk at the US press club headquarters a very well-known Washington Post reporter, Jamal Khashoggi , entered the Saudi Arabian embassy in Istanbul, Turkey, and it is believed now he may have left hours later “in multiple pieces” (body parts), after an assassination within the consulate. His death, at this time, remains rumor and uncertain. The Saudis deny any knowledge of his whereabouts. He may still be alive.

Saudi Arabia is at war with Yemen and is a vigorous critic and active aggressor against Qatar, where Al Jazeera's base headquarters (Doha) is located.

Al Jazeera: The original Al Jazeera Satellite Channel launched in 1996 to replace a BBC channel that closed when the Saudi government attempted to block a documentary pertaining to executions under Sharia law. The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa, provided a loan of $137 million to sustain Al Jazeera through its first five years (Hugh Miles; Al Jazeera: The Inside Story of the Arab News Channel That Is Challenging the West).

In June 2017, the Saudi, Emirati, Bahraini, and Egyptian governments demanded the closure of the news station as one of thirteen demands made to Qatar during a 2017 conflict dubbed the Qatar Crisis. Other media networks have spoken out in support of the network. The Atlantic magazine posed that Al Jazeera (especially Al Jazeera English) presents a far more moderate, Westernized face than Islamic jihadism or rigid Sunni orthodoxy. Though the network has been criticized as "an 'Islamist' stalking horse, it actually features "very little specifically religious content in its broadcasts," according to the Atlantic report. Last week in Washington DC, Al Jazeera's director recited uncounted instances whereby its journalists have been killed, harassed and threatened throughout the Middle East and beyond. If threatened, "reporters may be comp