The Middle East has a particularly peculiar history when it comes to the banning of media outlets. The BBC for example earned the consternation and fear in Iran of both the last Shah's regime and the current Islamic Republic regime alike. The former attributed great powers to it given its small role in the 1953 Anglo-American coup against the famous Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq. It was even suggested by some Iranian air force generals to the Shah after the revolution got underway in 1979 that they could take out the BBC's relay towers in order to stop that media outlet from continuing to broadcast in Iran. That proposal was turned down, but it nevertheless aptly demonstrated their conspiratorial fear of the power that news agency seemingly possessed.
The present authorities also see it as amounting to little more than a nefarious propaganda outlet.
Similarly the Al Jazeera network is often viewed as a troublemaking broadcaster by many authorities and governments in the region. The Americans disliked it for its coverage of the Iraq War and the Saudi and Egyptian regimes dislike it for what they perceive to be its support for the Muslim Brotherhood organization.
It's also worth noting that the mouthpiece of the Iranian regime, Press TV, can send its correspondents to report in Israel, a country whose existence it bitterly, and routinely, denounces as an illegitimate and irrevocable enemy. Would we think less of Israeli democracy if they didn't let Press TV journalists in to report on Israeli affairs?
Of course we would. And quite rightfully so, too.
Freedom of speech means you permit unpopular and/or controversial things to be said. You don't muzzle the press. Even if some outlets in the press you find to be, biased, beneath contempt or overly ideological.
Recently journalists working for the Erbil-based Rudaw news agency were banned from covering events in Syria Kurdistan (Rojava) for allegedly being anti-PKK. Which is ironic considering the fact that Rudaw's website was also filtered recently in Turkey who accuse it of being pro-PKK. Being accused of polar opposite ideological and/or political leanings in such a way show how ridiculous the pretexts given for censorship invariably are.
It upset me to see Rojava ban Rudaw. Yes Rojava is enduring some very tough times now. Combating the threat posed Islamic State (ISIS) has seen to most of the society being mobilized in order to fight in defense of their homes and their territory. And of course they want to convey a favourable and sympathetic impression to the world of their plight and their efforts to erect a durable autonomous polity.
Keeping Rudaw out, unfortunately, is a regressive step for them to take. At such a critical juncture it is transparency that will give Rojava greater legitimacy. Even if complete transparency does result in the showcasing of the nastier sides of this war. Transparency however, especially at a time of war, will unequivocally demonstrate Rojava's confidence in the form of democracy and society it claims to be successfully spearheading in that part of Syria.
By disallowing Rudaw journalists entry into Rojava the authorities there are in turn denying a whole window and perspective on the many important unfolding events there. Instead of banning the media – or only selectively allowing in those who they think will report positively and uncritically about the situation and the conduct of the authorities there – Rojava should permit journalists from a whole range of agencies to cover and report on their situation. Even if journalists do shine a light on the struggles, sufferings and general travails of ordinary civilians in Rojava their presence will still lend credibility to the efforts of the authorities to establish an open and democratic system in Rojava. Freedom of the press is always one important indicator of how democratized and open a society truly is.
Rojava should reverse its decision to ban Rudaw journalists. They should lift the ban and permit them entry and as much access as possible. In doing so they will be priding themselves on the fact that however tough things may be at this point in time, they are fighting for a free and open society. The very thing that Daesh thoroughly detests and seeks to eradicate.
Paul Iddon is a freelance journalist and political writer who writes on Middle East affairs, politics, developments and history.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.