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article imageOp-Ed: Where is the mainstream media?

By KJ Mullins     Sep 20, 2011 in World
While groups like Reporters Without Borders and PEN International have been pushing an effort to get the plight of journalists detained for a decade in Eritrea attention little is appearing in mainstream media.
For the past month mainstream media has been pushing out stories on the attacks of the United States on September 11, 2001 but has ignored the fact that just days later a nation locked down their free press. There is little coverage of how a nation has spent the past decade without independent media within their borders. Why? One reason could be that Eritrea placed 169th, in the bottom five, of the 2007 worldwide press freedom index.
That low placement means that stories about human issues are not making it out of the borders.
Another quick answer would be the size and scope of the two different stories. When a nation as powerful as the United States is attacked the world listens and wants to know every detail. When a nation as small as Eritrea takes away their independent journalists and locks them up who is there to tell the story. Many have no idea where Eritrea is (it's located in the Horn of Africa on the Red Sea) or what it stands for.
Journalists aren't the only ones not allowed in, many humanitarian groups have seen the borders closed off. Without an insider's view of the conditions the chances of a story making its way to the outside has little chance.
About 6 million people live within the borders of Eritrea, a nation controlled by their president Isaias Afewerki. It is a nation that is equally represented by a Muslim and Christian population. There are four allowed religions within the nation which must submit information of their members to the government. Non-approved religions are not allowed to worship freely with members facing imprisonment or fines. Members of the Jehovah's Witness sect have been targeted in recent years.
While there are many possibilities about stories of Eritrea it is difficult to report on them. The nation doesn't allow foreign reporters in and the working journalists that reside within the borders are employed by the state, writing what they are allowed to print.
Journalists who disobey the rules in Eritrea can fear the fate of others like Dawit Isaak who has been detained since September 23, 2001. Little is known of Issak's time in detention. The International Red Cross nor his family has been allowed to see the dual citizen of Eritrea and Sweden. It is assumed he is alive but he suffers from ill health. Isaak is a diabetic, known to have required hospital treatments several times while he has been locked away. In 2005 he was allowed to have a medical check-up and contact his family after Swedish groups applied pressure.
Of course Eritrea is not alone when it comes to little mainstream media exposure. It often takes a disaster of epic proportions to make it into the sacred spotlight. Until the 2010 earthquake there were few stories covering the extreme poverty of Haiti for instance. Those stories that did make it to the news were because of groups that lobbied for them to be put front and center.
There are few lobbies for those in Eritrea. Behind the closed borders its difficult and dangerous to get a story out. It's clear that the government has won in silencing its people.
This is the fourth in a series of reports. During the next seven days reports will continue on the conditions of the nation of Eritrea and what journalists in that nation are facing. All research material has been provided privately by a member of PEN Canada.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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