Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
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Despite some positive revisions in press legislation, the country’s media still operate under a restrictive legal and political environment. Articles 36 and 37 of the constitution provide for freedom of speech and of the press, and Kuwait is frequently considered to be among the best performers in the region, but there are numerous limitations to these rights. A new law passed in 2006 was met with mixed reactions. On March 6, after 20 years of debate, the country passed a new Press and Publications Law. While this legislation ends the government’s monopoly on licensing new media outlets, it retains many of the repressive measures used to prosecute journalists in the past. Journalists can no longer be detained without a court order, but they may still be prosecuted under the penal code for a number of offenses. Those found guilty of criticizing Islam may be imprisoned for up to one year and fined up to US$70,000. The new law also criminalizes the publication of material that criticizes, among other things, the constitution, the emir, or Islam or incites acts that will offend public morality or religious sensibilities. Such transgressions are no longer punishable by jail terms but may be subject to staggeringly high fines. A number of journalists were arrested under the new legislation during the rest of the year. For example, Amid Buyabis was jailed on May 15 for directly quoting criticism of the emir; he was released the next day. Separately, Kuwaiti journalist Khaled Obaysan al-Mutairi was arrested for an article published in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Seyassah that praised Saddam Hussein and called upon the Arab League to support the Iraqi resistance. The information minister stated that the paper had been charged with “publishing reports that negatively impact Kuwaiti society,” but the charges were dropped and al-Mutairi was released the next day. Finally, on November 18 journalist Aziza al-Mufarig of the daily Al-Watan was fined 1,000 dinars (US$3,500) and given a three-month suspended sentence and three years’ probation for an article she had written that questioned the independence of a Kuwaiti judge.
Despite these instances of journalists being arrested, there were no direct physical attacks on the press in 2006. In general, the Ministry of Information (MOI) does not actively interfere or restrict access to local or international news, and the Kuwaiti media are known to provide more critical and outspoken coverage of the government and politics than the rest of the region. Nevertheless, given the ongoing restrictions in the new Press and Publications Law, journalists continued to practice self-censorship. The MOI can also censor all books, films, and periodicals it deems morally offensive.
Although there are five Arabic and two English daily newspapers, all privately owned, the last government-issued license was in 1976. The old Press Law of 1963 had limited the press to five dailies. While all publishers are required to obtain an operating license from the MOI in order to launch a daily under the new 2006 Press and Publications Law, the MOI must now issue the license or provide an explanation for its refusal within 90 days of application, and those denied licenses may appeal such action in court. Nevertheless, 250,000 dinars (US$950,000) is the required minimum capital to establish a paper under the new law, limiting the number of individuals capable of doing so. There are nine state-owned radio stations and television stations, and the government has finally granted licenses to a few private television and radio stations, such as satellite television channel Al-Rai and Marina FM radio. However, the content of these private stations tends more toward entertainment than critical news. The government tried to shut down a number of satellite stations that were broadcasting programs related to the June parliamentary elections. Twenty-five percent of the population accessed the internet in 2006, although the government has blocked websites considered to promote terrorism and political instability; several websites were blocked during the year. The U.S. State Department reported that internet café owners are required to obtain the names and identification of internet users and must submit the information if required by the Ministry of Communication.