Censorship in Saudi Arabia

Censorship in Saudi Arabia


Saudi Arabia: media

If we analyze the situation of media in Saudi Arabia today, we can observe that except for some electronic sites of the political or religious opposition, the totality of the Saudi media, written press, radio and television, is placed under the political or financial control of the royal family. The censure is very powerful and is exerted in two distinct forms.

In the case of the media whose capital belongs to the royal family, self-censorship and the internal authority of the chief editor are supposed to be good enough to ensure the political conformism of the journalistic production and the diffusion of audio-visual programs. The "independent" media, i.e. whose capital is not held by the royal family, on the other hand are subjected to a severe and fastidious censure, and the journalists are obliged to daily search the approval of the Ministry of Information Censors.

Because of this excessively rigid structure, the contents of the Saudi written press seem to be very stereotyped, dully patriotic and always religiously correct.

Incoming press is strictly controlled by censorship officials, primarily for content of sexual nature. Foreign magazines are sold locally, but frequently censored by inking out explicit photos of women. Since 2007, the inking is only on the wrapping. Meanwhile, books, videotapes and electronic media brought into the country may be subjected to censorship at customs.

National daily newspapers

The single advantage of Internet sites of the national daily newspapers is that they generally make it possible to access for free the whole electronic files of the newspaper. Unfortunately for non Arabic-speaking readers, those sites have no page in European language. The Saudi press was created in 1932 with the daily newspaper Al-Bilad available in Arabic, which at the time was diffused from Mecca.

Al-Riyadh (Arab) is the daily newspaper of the capital, which can be considered as the official journal of monarchy. The economic news is relayed by the daily newspaper Al-Iqtisadiyya, while the sports are treated by Al-Riyadhiyya available in Arabic. The daily newspapers known as more "liberal" are Okaz available in Arabic, daily newspaper of Hedjaz, and Al-Watan ("the homeland) (Arab), which is the daily newspaper of Abha. Their liberalism nevertheless is limited by the capacity of their shareholders and the very powerful self-censorship of their journalists. The daily newspapers known as more "Islamic" are Al-Jazira ("the peninsula") available in Arabic, the daily newspaper of Qasim, Al-Madina available in Arabic, the daily newspaper of Mdine, and Al-Yaum ("the day") (Arab), the daily newspaper of Dammam. Another source of information is the daily newspaper of information addressing to the young people: Shams ("sun") (Arab).

Saudi Arabia press Abroad

In addition to the financial power of the Kingdom, the Saudi influence on the Arab scene also goes through the investment of the Pan-Arab media field. The two daily newspapers most read by the Arab Diaspora, are published in London and are held by two princes of the Saudi royal family. The first, Al-Hayat ("life") (Arab, English), belongs to the prince Khaled bin Sultan, son of the crown Prince and Minister of Defense, Sultan bin Abdelaziz. The newspaper Al-Hayat is considered to be liberal and pro-American. It was founded by the Lebanese Kamel Mroué in 1946, and it also relays the positions of the Kingdom, while remaining receptive to soft critics from opened minds. Al-Sharq Al-Awsat ("the Middle East") (Arab) was repurchased in 1990 by the prince Salman bin Abdelaziz, half-brother of the king and governor of Riyadh. Its leading line reflects the broad outlines of the Saudi diplomacy.

Newspapers and reviews on line

Many sorts of Saudi Arabian media are available on line .The daily newspaper on line Elaph available in Arabic is an example of a smooth takeover by the kingdom of an electronic publication which was supposed to be relatively independent. The daily newspaper on line the Homeland (al-Watan) available in Arabic gives from Washington a more independent vision of Saudi news. The daily newspaper the Facts (al-Haqâ ' iq) available in Arabic and English can also be consulted on line. Saudi Salafi movement is present with an online magazine, the Time (al- `Asr). (enfin), one will be able to consult the on line cultural and literary review named Horizons (Ufuq).


The electronic version of the principal Saudi magazines, which are subjected to the same constraints as the daily press can also be found on internet. The review Al-Majalla (Arab) first of all, is mainly a translation of The Economist and claims to be the first Arab review. It diffuses a vision of the world very close to the American and British interests in the area. One of the pioneers' reviews in the country is Aramco World (English), the magazine of the oil company Aramco. The official review of the Saudi royal family is the eye of the Truth (`Ayn Al-Yâqîn) (English, Arab). The minister of education diffuses a teaching and cultural magazine, Knowledge (al-Ma ' rifa) (Arab). The Saudi armed forces are also present in the sector of the monthly press, in particular the army with the magazine Defense (al-Difâ ') (http://www.al-difaa.com) (Arab). Finally Saudi mobility salafi is not in remainder, with in particular a magazine devoted to the general questions of faith, Islamic jurisprudence and company, the Proclamation (al-Bayân) (http://albayan-magazine.com) (Arab) and a more practical and family weekly magazine, the Family (al-Usra) (http://www.alosrahmag.com) (Arab).

Radios and televisions

Television is the principal political and ideological battle field in the Middle East. Since the years 1990, satellite channels opposed a fierce competition to the traditional national channels, and very diverse contents, often subversive, broke in Arab homes. Saudi Arabia is in the center of reaction against satellite channels and their contents considered to be dangerous for the strategic balance of the area. After having prohibited - without effect - the sale and the possession of satellite receivers, the Saudi State and the royal family massively invested in the sector, in order to pick up the market of Arab TV viewers and to diffuse contents considered to be in accordance with the Saudi and American domination on the Middle East.

The first Saudi terrestrial public channel of all, the First Saoudi channel and the nonstop information channel Al-Ikhbariyya (Arab). With the Second channel (in English language), they are the only television channels officially under the supervision of the State. The other channels which we present here are not less under narrow control, at the same time financial and political, of the Saudi royal family. It is naturally the case of the chain Pan Arab Al-Arabiyya ("Arabia") (Arab, English), which intends to compete which intends to compete with the famous Qatari channel Al-Jazeera from Dubai ("the Peninsula") (Arab, English). The site of the one of the presenters' high-speed motorboats of the chain, Turki Al-Dakhil (http://www.turkid.net) (Arab), will give an idea of the contents of the chain, which wants to be discreetly pro-American and promotes a desired Islam "moderate". If they are numerous to look at Al-Arabiyya, the Saudis nevertheless called it "Al `Ibriyya" ("the Hebraic one") to mark their distance with regard to the diffused contents.

Launched to London in 1991 then transferred to Dubai in 2000, MBC (Middle East Broadcasting Center) (Arab, English) is historically the first chain panarabe of information and entertainment. Placed gradually under control of the Saoudi royal family, it is today one of the pillars of the setting to the ideological step of the area, with four chains diffusing exclusively American contents: MBC2, which diffuses since 2002 of American films; MBC3 (Arab), which diffuses educational contents since 2004; MBC4, which diffuses since 2005 of documentary and subtitled American programs; MBC Action finally, which diffuses since 2007 of action films and other American series. Two radios which diffuse music of variety and programs informative belong to group MBC: MBC FM (Arab, English) and Panorama.

Two Islamic chains, Iqra' ("Recites! ") and Al-Majd ("Glory"), represent the other pouring of the Saoudi audio-visual domination and aim at the hearths - many - which refuse MBC and regard it as a pro-Western chain. Iqra' (Arab, English, Albanian) was created in 1998 and proposes programs dedicated to preaching, Islamic jurisprudence and the security questions; it also diffuses an Albanian version and wants to be universal. Emitting from Dubai and created in 2003, the chains Al-Majd (Arab) are diversified and aim at the Arab world. Held partially by the Saoudi royal family, they diffuse an Islamic message which wants to be "total" but nevertheless "moderated" and "balanced". Al-Majd includes/understands a general channel, an educational chain, a chain specialized in Coran, a chain specialized in Hadith (made and said of the Muhammad Prophet), a chain of Islamic sciences, a documentary chain, a chain of information uninterrupted and a radio.

Saudi Arabia is a country where religion and politics are indissociable.

In 2009 the barometer of Freedom of the Press in RSF, classified Saudi Arabia with the 163 place on 175 and that result shows that the media environment in Saudi Arabia remained among the most repressive in the Arab World.

The Saudi press is subjected to a very strong censure. Moreover, in general the journalists self-censorship themselves inside the country, the purpose of the policy of censure is to prohibit any calling into question of the royal and religious power; while outside the country other people seek to give a progressive image of Saudi Arabia which must show itself fighting terrorism. Many Internet sites remain blocked, but with the rise of satellite dishes and satellite antennas, the government had to give in a little ground to freedom of the press but freedom is relative according to the conception of each country and cultutre.

Still Freedom of expression does not exist in Saudi Arabia, neither for the press, nor for Internet and the royal family has the capacity to revoke the journalists and appoint the persons in charge of the media

The Saudi system of censure

The Internet Services Unit (ISU) is in charge of the maintenance of the Saudi censure system on the Web. It manages the gateway used by the whole local internet service providers. The agency can thus control all of the exchanges of information circulating on the Net.

A number of sites are blocked according to two lists maintained by the Internet Services Unit (ISU) one containing "immoral" (mostly pornographic) sites, the other based on directions from a security committee run by the Ministry of Interior ,including sites critical of the Saudi government. An interesting feature of this system is that citizens are encouraged to actively report "immoral" sites for blocking, using a provided web form.

Saudi Arabia also directs all international Internet traffic through a proxy farm located in King Abdulaziz City for Science & Technology (KAST). Content filter is implemented there, based on software by Secure Computing.

Through KACST, the government can block and filter websites considered offensive, critical, or immoral. Updated lists of undesirable websites are continuously provided, and users who attempt to access banned sites receive warnings and are informed that their attempts are being recorded.

Although the authorities approved applications for over 40 privately owned internet service providers in 1998, all are linked to the main server at KACST

The Basic Law does not provide for press freedom, and the media are still regulated under the 1963 Publishing and Printing Law. The 49 provisions of the law cover the establishment of media outlets, the rights and responsibilities of journalists, and penalties for violation.

In Saudi Arabia, the government and the conservative religious establishment, use the press as a tool to educate the masses, propagate government views, and promote national unity. Nobody is allowed to criticize the royal family and the religious authorities, and any offense to the press is punishable by fines and imprisonment. Media outlets in Saudi Arabia are administered by the Ministry of Culture and Information, which uses laws, decrees, and interventions by the royal family to restrict media freedom.

In Saudi Arabia, Journalists can be harassed and detained if they take the risk to publish any unpleasant information concerning the Royal Family. Journalists can be threatened, arrested, interrogated and fired, and this is the reason why journalists automatically practice self-censorship.

emale journalists are discriminated. This discrimination includes lesser pay, discouragement from working as freelancers. They are obliged to solely cover topics related to women, family, and children and this is what leads many women to publish under aliases.

All journalists are subject to strict rules and must register with the Ministry of Information and foreign journalists have to face visa obstacles and restrictions on freedom of movement.

There are 10 daily newspapers in Saudi Arabia, all owned by either the government, members of the royal family or their associates. Broadcast media are also controlled by the government, which owns and operates all domestic television and radio stations. Satellite television has become widespread despite its illegal status and is an important source of foreign news; nonetheless, much of the satellite industry is controlled by Saudi investors and is respectful of local sensibilities.

Given all restrictions imposed on media in Saudi Arabia, a significant rise of blogs appeared , published online both by men and women, but the government systematically take steps to block those blogs by harassing or sanctioning the authors of these ones.

What happened?

Saudi Arabia is often cited for maintaining one of the world's most repressive and pervasive online censorship policies. Its censorship is mainly targeted towards "culturally immoral" materials such as pornography, homosexuality, narcotics and gambling, but it also affects websites related to political opposition, religion, or Israel. not just for their capacity to censor news and information online but also for their almost systematic repression of Internet users."

However, Saudi Arabia is an interesting exception because it does not attempt to be secretive. To illustrate, Internet users are clearly informed that certain websites have been blocked by the government's internet filter when they try to access them.

Even more surprisingly, Saudi Arabian authorities actually take advantage of crowdsourcing to make their censorship more efficient and comprehensive. There are only 25 government employees involved in day-to-day censorship operations. In addition to relying on filtering software to automatically monitor patent violations, the government openly invites ordinary citizens to flag websites containing objectionable materials. On a web forum furnished by the government, an average of 1200 cases is filed by citizens every day. CITC (Communications & Information Technology Commission) then reviews these cases and blocks about half of the websites reported, according to an anonymous source.

Personal opinion

Saudi Arabia remains one of the most repressive countries in terms of press freedom.

Nonetheless, it is fascinating to analyze the reaction of Saudi people in front of media censorship in their country.

This case is the perfect example of how religion and the sense of moral can influence people in their personal opinions and behavior. The vast majority of Saudi Arabians are Sunni Muslims and their values tend to be more conservative. Pornography, homosexuality, drugs, religious dissent, and pro-Semitism are considered sacrilegious and offensive by their cultural standards. People are mobilized and invited to participate to censorship by giving their opinion on what should or should not be censored and we can observe that most of the people agree with the system of censorship in Saudi Arabia. Furthermore the government openly invites ordinary citizens to flag websites containing objectionable materials.

There is that impression that people have this moral duty to report inappropriate web sites on internet for instance.

We can also wonder how free is a Saudi mind since Saudi people seem to be totally conditioned by oriented information essentially controlled by the Royal family.

In my opinion people should be able to make their own judgments without being oriented to think in a way or another.

Media is a tool of information which should allow people to stay critical towards each given topic. It should be up to each individual to decide of the relevance of information.

Will this tendency change in the future?

I believe that media is a strong tool of manipulation. When one grows up without having the opportunity of making his own opinion by comparing the reel facts exposed to him, it is then difficult to distinguish what can be bad or good.

Media have this power to control people's mind and to make them believe what they want them to believe and if one is not critical, he can believe whatever the media say.

If we take the example of internet which is one of the most controlled media in Saudi Arabia, It is supposed to be a space of freedom of expression, where opinions can be expressed and shared by the majority of people and not by the minority which looks to restrain freedom of expression in the name of morality and loyalty to the king and the Kingdom values.

This situation in Saudi Arabia is more likely to continue, because it is more a question of religious values, of morality and faith.

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