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Syrian bloggers brace for fresh blow to Middle East press freedom

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New media push boundaries

The Middle East has long been known as one of the least liberal regions for media freedoms in the world, though the advent of new media forms has pushed the boundaries of media restrictions and made governments more accountable to their citizens.

“The satellite revolution and the launch of private television in the 1990s made it harder to censor content,” says Naila Hamdy, a former journalist who now teaches at the American University in Cairo. “Now the Internet, which was formerly used only by a handful of people, has exploded, challenging traditional government-controlled media.”

But Middle Eastern countries pushed back as Internet usage surged 13-fold from 2000 to 2008. A 2009 report by the Committee to Protect Journalists detailed the tailoring of press laws and the introduction of new laws across the region, including measures such as the United Arab Emirates' Cyber Crime Law that stipulates $5,400 fines and prison sentences for vague online acts such as insulting family values.

Egypt, in the run-up to Nov. 28 parliamentary elections and the presidential election next year, has imposed restrictions on the press. Satellite television stations must now request a license before broadcasting a live event, as must companies engaging in mass text messaging.

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