Thursday, December 27, 2007

Arab Blogs: Are They Making a Difference?

The BBC's Robin Lustig looks at the current state of blogging in the Arab world:

That, at least, is the theory. There are now 70 million blogs in existence; 120,000 new ones spring up every day.

True, most of them are read only by their authors, but some have immense influence - and in the Arab world, some are now much more popular than the traditional print and broadcast media.

But being online does not mean being free of government restrictions.

In Egypt, bloggers can claim some successes: after they posted video images of police torturing detainees in custody, police officers were put on trial and jailed.

But one blogger has himself been jailed for insulting Islam, defaming President Hosni Mubarak, and "spreading information disruptive of the public order". Others face harassment and live in fear of arrest.

So are the "new media" - blogs, websites, chatrooms - now becoming the only truly independent media in the Arab world?

That was the question at the centre of a BBC debate I chaired in Cairo last week - and the response from the audience, despite the restrictions still in place, was overwhelmingly Yes.

You can listen to the debate by visiting the BBC web site.

While Lustig notes that his audience may not have been the most representative sample of Arab public opinion, his experience does suggest that blogs are providing a welcome venue for free expression in the Middle East.


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