Saudi Arabia | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia

Freedom of the Press 2004

2004 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

80

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

27

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

24

Despite a general lack of press freedom, 2003 witnessed some measured increases in media independence in Saudi Arabia. Authorities do not permit criticism of Islam or the ruling family, and a national security law prohibits criticism of the government. This prohibition is echoed by a media policy statement, which also urges journalists to "uphold Islam, oppose atheism, promote Arab interests, and preserve cultural heritage." Official censorship is common, as is self-censorship. However, in 2003 newspapers reported on previously taboo issues--such as crime, corruption, women's rights, religion, and terrorism--without prior authorization. These instances of greater press freedom were largely catalyzed by the May 12 suicide bombings in Riyadh perpetrated by Islamist terrorists. The print media are privately owned but publicly subsidized, and the broadcast media are government-owned. Satellite television--through which Saudi citizens have access to foreign news channels such as Al-Jazeera and CNN--is widespread, despite its illegal status. Notably, the government banned Al-Jazeera from covering this year's Hajj and jammed the signal of the London-based reformist Al-Islah radio and television stations. The Internet is widely available but highly censored for content and monitored by authorities. Journalists must be licensed to practice their profession, and government authorities frequently ban or fire journalists and editors who publish articles deemed offensive to the country's powerful religious establishment or the ruling authorities. In May, Jamal Khasshogi, editor of the reformist newspaper Al-Watan, was dismissed on government orders for writing articles critical of the religious establishment. Two months later Hussein Shabakshi, a journalist who advocated for elections, human rights, and women's equality in one of his weekly columns in the Saudi daily Okaz, was banned from writing for the paper by the information ministry. In a positive development, in February the government permitted the creation of the Saudi Journalists Association, intended to represent the interests of media professionals. The government tightly controls the entry of foreign journalists through the granting of visas, though authorities were less rigid in 2003.