Int'l press watchdog criticizes Mideast over media restrictions

An international press watchdog group on Tuesday denounced attempts by Egypt and other Arab countries to restrict satellite TV stations, part of what it called a continuing attempt in the Middle East to harass journalists and instill a climate of self-censorship. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said in its annual report on press freedoms released Tuesday that most Mideast governments have worked hard in the past year to curtail press freedoms and reassert control over the media. It pointed to a plan put forward by Egypt and Saudi Arabia a year ago to the Arab League to regulate satellite television across the region. The plan, approved by Arab information ministers, imposes fines and other punishments for broadcasts that "harm social peace, national unity, and public morals" and requires stations to "respect the dignity" of Arab nations - vague terms that many critics said aim to muzzle the stations.