Saudi Arabia | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia

Freedom of the Press 2005

2005 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

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

80

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

28

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

23

Authorities do not permit criticism of Islam or the ruling family by domestic media, and a national security law prohibits criticism of the government. These prohibitions are echoed by a media policy statement that urges journalists to "uphold Islam, oppose atheism, promote Arab interests, and preserve cultural heritage." Newspapers are created by royal decree, and all journalists must register with the 2Ministry of Information, which also appoints all editors in chief. Saudi Arabia's first professional journalists association was granted a charter in 2003, though the Ministry of Information can veto any of its decisions.

The print media are privately owned but publicly subsidized and are often closely associated with members of the royal family. Authorities frequently ban or fire journalists and editors who publish articles deemed offensive to the country's powerful religious establishment or the ruling authorities. Official censorship is common, as is self-censorship. Nevertheless, recent years have seen newspapers report on previously taboo issues-such as crime, corruption, women's rights, religion, terrorism, and elections in neighboring states-without prior authorization. In 2004, newspapers featured extensive coverage of upcoming municipal elections. In addition, two London-based dailies, Al-Sharq al-Awsat and Al-Hayat, were available and read widely, though content was tempered to comply with government guidelines. In March, authorities banned Al-Sharq al-Awsat journalist Faris Hizam Al-Harbi for his reporting on terrorism and corruption. The following month, Al-Harbi was detained and then released after about two weeks in custody. In December, journalists from the domestic newspapers the Saudi Gazette and Al-Madina were detained (and later released) at the trial of arrested advocates of democratic reforms.

The state-owned Saudi Press Agency does not deviate from official government positions. The broadcast media are government owned and subject to rigorous government censors; private radio and television stations cannot broadcast from Saudi soil. However, satellite television-through which Saudi citizens have access to foreign news channels such as Al-Jazeera and CNN-is widespread, despite its illegal status. In January, the government launched an all-news satellite channel, Al-Ikhbariya, which featured a female presenter in its opening broadcast, a first for Saudi media. The channel was established as an alternative to Al-Jazeera, which has repeatedly drawn the ire of authorities and is barred from covering the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

The government continues to censor foreign publications before they enter the country, blacking out and banning some objectionable materials. Foreign broadcasts are similarly censored, and references to politics, pork or pigs, alcohol, sex, and religions other than Islam are removed. The entry of foreign journalists is tightly controlled through the granting of visas, though restrictions have eased significantly in recent years. In June, BBC cameraman Simon Cumbers was shot dead while filming the house belonging to an al-Qaeda terrorist killed in 2003 by Saudi police. A BBC security correspondent, Frank Gardner, was injured in the attack.

The Internet is widely available, but the government has employed a sophisticated filtering system to block access to Web sites deemed morally or politically inappropriate. Some users circumvent these controls by accessing servers based in the more liberal Gulf states. Government officials reportedly ordered mobile phones with cameras to be banned from the country.