Freedom of the Press
Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Although Oman’s basic charter provides for freedom of the press, government laws and actions tightly restrict this freedom in practice. Article 29 of the Basic Law provides for freedom of the press “within the limits of the law,” but this right is restricted in practice by the government and the repressive 1984 Press and Publication Law. Libel is treated as a criminal offense, and journalists can be imprisoned or given high fines for such transgressions, particularly if they voice criticisms of longtime ruler Sultan Qaboos. The Ministry of Information may legally censor any material regarded as politically, culturally, or sexually offensive in both domestic and foreign media. Articles 61 and 62 of the 2002 Telecommunications Act prohibit individuals from knowingly sending a message over any form of telecommunications that violates laws for public order and morals or is harmful to an individual’s safety. On January 30, Taybah al-Ma’wali, a former parliamentarian, was released from prison after serving a six-month term for insulting public officials via telephone and the internet. Journalists practice a high degree of self-censorship out of fear of violating vaguely written laws such as those prohibiting the publication of material that may lead to public discord, the abuse of a person’s dignity, or the violation of state security. The penal code allows for defendants considered to have endangered national security to be prosecuted before the State Security Court, where fewer due process rights exist.
Despite such restrictive press laws, information is widely available and “constructive” criticism of the government is allowed, particularly in online publications. Journalists do not have open or equal access to sources and are not able to cover the news freely. There were no reported cases of physical intimidation of journalists, but self-censorship is widespread. Public information is often made available through the official Oman News Agency before being distributed to media outlets. While journalists do not often face obstacles in acquiring the required licenses to practice journalism, increased requirements regarding journalistic identification cards were introduced in 2005. Every journalist had to reapply for a new ID card in 2005 and must now reapply every year as a employee of a specific media outlet, thus forbidding the practice of freelance journalism. The first Oman Journalists Association was officially launched in early 2006, although it is widely believed to be too closely connected to government agencies to function independently.
Print media serve as the main source for local news. There are four privately owned daily newspapers and two state-run dailies. Each daily has its own printing press; however, the government places regulations on the use of printing materials and distribution. Privately owned publications reportedly receive government subsidies, although the increasing amount of foreign advertising revenue is slowly allowing some private publications to rely less on state funding. The government’s monopoly on radio and television broadcasts continued in 2006, and the licensing conditions for establishing private broadcast media, under the 2004 Private Radio and Television Companies Law, are difficult to meet. Applicants are limited to Omani nationals with high capital owing to the US$1.25 million required to establish an outlet. Nonetheless, in October 2005 the state issued licenses to two different companies to establish a private television station and three private radio stations, which are expected to launch in 2007. Satellite access in mostly urban areas provided foreign news and information. Although the internet was widely available (approximately 12 percent of the population accessed it), it was also heavily filtered by the government-owned internet service provider, Omantel. Because of such restrictions, fewer local blogs and websites exist, and those that do are monitored. Authorities created an Internet Service Manual, which contains a lengthy list of prohibited online topics, including defamation of the royal family and false data or rumors.