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)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
The diversity of Kuwait’s media environment, already one of the most open in the Middle East, improved slightly in 2007 as a result of the licensing of six new Arabic-language dailies, the first accreditation of any new paper in 30 years. Nevertheless, during the year, the government also continued to censor and prosecute the media for reporting on certain prohibited religious and political topics. Freedoms of speech and of the press are protected under Articles 36 and 37 of the constitution, but only “in accordance with the conditions and in the circumstances defined by law.” The Press and Publications Law, revised in 2006, extends some important protections to the media, but it prohibits the publication of material that insults God, the prophets, or Islam and forbids criticism of the emir, disclosing secret or private information, and calling for the regime’s overthrow. Any citizen may press criminal charges against an author who they believe has violated these proscriptions. Penalties for criticizing Islam were increased under the new Press and Publications Law and can include prison sentences of up to one year and fines of up to 20,000 Kuwaiti dinars (US$69,000). The government occasionally imposed these press penalties in 2007, including for internet-related offenses. On August 18, Bashar al-Sayegh, editor of the daily Al-Jarida, was arrested and charged with insulting the emir based on a comment posted by someone else on an open-forum news website he was hosting. Jassim al-Qames, another editor of the paper, was arrested, beaten, and detained for photographing the arrest of al-Sayegh. The two journalists were released days later after being interrogated, and the person responsible for the comment, Nayef Abdullah al-Ajmi, was arrested on August 21 after al-Sayegh was reportedly forced to disclose his internet protocol address. In other instances of legal harassment, in May 2007, charges were filed against two weekly newspapers and their editors for articles on corruption. Ten complaints were filed against Al-Abraj for an article blaming the prime minister for Kuwait’s poor score in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index; and three separate cases were brought against Al-Shaab for publishing an article on politics when it was licensed to cover only arts and culture.
In general, the Ministry of Information (MOI) does not actively interfere with or restrict access to news, and the Kuwaiti media are considered more critical and outspoken than those in the rest of the region. More in-depth reporting and a wider diversity of opinions appear in newspapers than in broadcast media. Nevertheless, given the ongoing restrictions in the new Press and Publications Law, journalists continued to practice self-censorship. International news is widely available, with a number of foreign media outlets operating bureaus in Kuwait. News sources originating outside Kuwait must be reviewed by the ministry before circulation. In September, several Egyptian newspapers were banned from circulation owing to articles considered injurious to Kuwait. The MOI can censor all books, films, and periodicals it deems morally offensive. The Arabic daily Al-Watan was banned for three days for publishing an “indecent photo” of the granddaughter of Saddam Hussein in a swimsuit. In March, an episode of the popular television show Al-Diwaniya on the subject of Arab blogs was prevented from airing, and a television series was banned in September for its representation of Shiite beliefs and practices. In an apparently related incident, the offices of both the Middle East Broadcasting Center and the Al-Arabiya satellite channel were attacked with rocks in September. Although neither could confirm the reason for the attacks, both reported having received numerous calls to ban the television series, which is considered offensive to the Shia faith.
Kuwait has nine Arabic and three English-language newspapers, all of which are privately owned. Private media have relatively transparent ownership. All publishers are required to obtain an operating license from the MOI in order to launch a daily under the new Press and Publications Law; however, the MOI must now issue the license or provide an explanation for its refusal within 90 days of application, and those denied licenses can appeal such action in court. In addition, media outlet licenses may not be revoked without a court order. Despite the fact that the new law requires a minimum capital of 250,000 Kuwaiti dinars (US$950,000) to establish a paper, the government licensed six new daily Arabic-language newspapers in 2007. The old Press Law of 1963 had limited the press to five dailies. Private newspapers have their own presses and are free to set their own prices. The government has started to license private television and radio stations, such as the satellite television news channel Al-Rai, but the state still owns the majority of broadcast outlets, with nine local radio stations and four television stations. Although the advertising market is still limited, it continues to grow owing to an increase in advertising agencies. Wage levels for journalists of both state-operated media and private media were not high enough to discourage the occasional acceptance of bribes to influence coverage. Low salaries have also discouraged many Kuwaiti nationals from pursuing the field of journalism; at the end of 2006, only 2 percent of media workers in the local media sector were Kuwaitis.
Of Kuwait’s population, 32.6 percent used the internet in 2007, more than four times the number that accessed it in 2000. The government continued to debate how best to regulate this growing means of communication. The state already requires all internet service providers to install and operate systems to block websites with material deemed anti-Islamic, extremist Islamic, or pornographic, as well as certain types of political websites. However, the website-blocking policies are not always clear or consistent. 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. At year’s end, there was talk of a draft Website Censorship Law to be presented to the parliament.