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1. A Conference on the Freedom of the Press

A Conference on the Freedom of the Press in the Middle East was held in Boston College on Saturday.

A joint program by the Peace Islands Institute, a nonprofit organization committed to dialogue and peacebuilding, and the Boston College Islamic Civilization and societies program, the conference consisted of a three panel discussion on the topics of censorship in the media, ethics and safety, and social media.

MIT Professor Noam Chomsky delivered the keynote speech, in which he underlined the dire conditions of press freedom in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

Dr. Chomsky spoke of the “murdering of journalism” in Turkey, referring to the government’s storming of the Ipek Media Group, when they forcefully broke in and shut down four media outlets including a TV channel and newspaper days before the November 1st elections. He also drew attention to the Turkish government’s involvement in fueling the war in Syria by aiding the Al-Nusra rebels.

Heading the first panel on censorship was former New York Times Istanbul bureau chief and Pulitzer award-winner Stephen Kinzer, who said the story of press freedom is the story of freedom for countries like Iran and Turkey. He noted the crucial regression of Turkish democracy at the hand of the current regime, and warned that Turkey seems to be switching places with Iran. Kinzer, however, seemed optimistic that the struggles of Turkish journalists would prove fruitful in the end, and that the current dire situation was not permanent.

Analyst Mohamad Elmasry followed with journalistic professionalism in Egypt, and how the transitions overtaking the country in the past couple of years resulted in the undermining of journalism, instead of furthering the democratic process in the country. He said that journalists in Egypt function not as watchdogs, but as journalists.
Concluding the first panel, Turkish columnist and editor-in-chief of Turkish Review Kerim Balci focused on Turkish President Erdogan’s manipulation of businesses and state power in order to control the media in Turkey.

The second panel focused on the ethics and safety of the press in the Middle East. Leading the panel was award-winning Turkish veteran journalist and founding president of P24 media, Hasan Cemal. Mr. Cemal delivered his speech in a poetic prose, he spoke of the world he envisioned for Turkey, and the heartbreak he felt when the Turkish government overtook Bugun TV and Newspapers just days before the elections on November 1st. Mr. Cemal warned of the tyranny of Turkish President Erdogan, and concluded with finality that the Turkish people would not leave their world to tyrants.

Maggy Zanger of the University of Arizona, and journalist Nada Alwady of Bahrain followed through with lectures on journalism among the mountain Kurds and Bahrain’s struggle with press freedom, respectively.

Lina ben Mhenni, 2011 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Nate Schenkkan of Freedom House and Chris A. Bail of Duke University presented the final panel on social media’s role in press freedom in the Middle East. Mr. Bail spoke of anti-Islam organization is American and their use of social media to drive their campaigns. Lina ben Mhenni delivered an impassioned lecture where she said that she was “sick and tired of hearing about Tunisian exceptionalism in the media.” She adamantly expressed that the current Tunisian government’s incompetence and lack of accountability deemed the “Tunisian revolution a failure.”

The conference was held at Boston College, open to the public with an overflowing attendance.