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Tunisian bloggers win online media award

By ANGELA CHARLTON
The Associated Press
Friday, March 11, 2011; 1:38 PM

PARIS -- Reporters Without Borders on Friday gave its annual award for online media freedom to a Tunisian blogging group - highlighting the role of social media in Arab world uprisings this year.

Tunisia's Nawaat.org won the media watchdog's Google-sponsored euro2,500 ($3,450) Netizen Prize for efforts to promote freedom of expression online.

Nawaat.org played an important role rallying anti-government protesters in Tunisia, where President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's regime routinely quashed dissent and strictly controlled traditional media.

The Tunisian site, a collective blog created in 2004 to allow Tunisians to share their daily worries in a public forum, uploaded images of police violence during December protests over unemployment and corruption in the country's provinces. The protests had been ignored by national media.

Protesters shared the images on Facebook and other sites, and encouraged more demonstrations against Ben Ali, which eventually reached the capital, Tunis. Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14, and what some called the "Jasmine Revolution" went on to spark similar protests and civil disobedience across the Middle East and North Africa.

Social networking and other websites were again instrumental in the protests - and increasingly drew the ire of autocratic authorities. Authorities in Egypt and Libya tried to shut down the Internet to stem insurrection.

Riadh Guerfali, a co-founder of Nawaat.org who blogs under the name Astrubal, accepted the RSF prize Friday.

This year, groups from China, Bahrain and Thailand were also in the running for the prize - in its second year

Facebook played a prominent role in Thailand's opposition protests last year, and the government has since sought to curtail online media.

The head of Reporters Without Borders, Jean-Francois Julliard, said Net freedom is fragile, with 119 people currently detained for expressing opinions online, mainly in China, Iran and Vietnam.

The prize is backed by Google, because, as regional president Carlo d'Asaro Biondo said in a statement, it "defends our company's core values" of making information accessible to all.

© 2011 The Associated Press