Autocratic governments in the Middle East combined periodic crackdowns with cosmetic media reforms last year to maintain their control over the press, an international media watchdog said Monday. In its annual survey on world press freedom, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said reporters have been sentenced to prison for critical writing, despite promises of reform by Mideast regimes. "Arab governments have had success in keeping independent journalists at heel by stunting media development or by chipping away at press gains through periodic crackdowns," said the report, which was released in Cairo on Monday. "Arab governments have also manipulated the media reform process. Regimes from Egypt to Yemen touted cosmetic amendments to media laws that have long been used to control journalism," it said.