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 1984 Press and Publications Law is one of the most restrictive statutes of its kind in the Arab world and serves to create a highly censored and subdued media environment. Articles 29, 30, and 31 of Oman’s 1996 Basic Law guarantee freedom of expression and of the press; however, these rights must be exercised “within the limits of the law.” While the 2004 Private Radio and Television Companies Law allows for the licensing of the first private broadcast media, the high capital requirement to launch an outlet under the law has discouraged private broadcasting in practice. Libel is treated as a criminal offense, and journalists can be fined or imprisoned for voicing criticisms of the sultan or for printing material that leads to “public discord, violates the security of the state, or abuses a person’s dignity or rights.” The Telecommunications Act allows the authorities to prosecute individuals for any message, sent through any means of communication, that violates public order and morals or is harmful to a person’s safety. Private communications such as mobile telephone calls, e-mail, and exchanges in internet chat rooms are monitored. The Ministry of Information may legally censor any material regarded as politically, culturally, or sexually offensive in both domestic and foreign media. Media managers and editors also serve as censors and refrain from pursuing more investigative stories out of fear of criminal or financial repercussions. Journalists who have been charged with past Press and Publications Law violations often find it difficult to secure work or be published.
Information and news are widely available, and foreign broadcasts are often accessed via satellite in urban areas. However, there is a basic lack of coverage of local topics such as the economy, unemployment, or minority and migrant issues. Candidates for the October 2007 Consultative Council elections were allowed to place campaign advertisements in the local papers for the first time, and foreign journalists were invited to cover the voting. While both private and state-run print and broadcast media tend to support the government’s views, some “constructive” criticism of the government is permitted. Journalists, however, still practice a high degree of self-censorship, and reporters have been jailed in the past for coverage of colleagues’ arrests. Journalists are required to obtain licenses to practice, and since 2005 they have been obliged to reapply each year as an employee of a specific media outlet, thus forbidding the practice of freelance journalism. Journalists may have their licenses revoked at any time for violating press laws or for crossing red lines.
The Arabic-language daily newspaper Azzamn began publication in August, making it the country’s fifth privately owned daily in addition to two government-owned papers. Private newspapers sustain themselves largely on local and international advertising revenues rather than sales, and many no longer need to accept state subsidies. No entity exists to verify circulation numbers of print media. TheWeek, a free English-language weekly, became the first newspaper to carry out an audit and provide circulation data to its advertisers in 2007 in order to create greater transparency. There are two state-owned television stations and three state-owned radio stations. The state licensed three private radio stations and one private television station for the first time in 2005 (following passage of the Private Radio and Television Companies Law of 2004). Hala FM, the first private radio station, launched in May 2007, and HI-FM followed in October; both stations broadcast mostly music. The government retains the right to close down any media outlet at any time. Bribes to influence journalistic content are rare owing to relatively high wages for journalists and a lack of opportunity to provide critical perspectives.
Ten percent of Oman’s population used the internet in 2007, reflecting a growth rate of more than 250 percent since 2000, still low in comparison with other countries in the region. Attempts to increase internet service and usage outside of the capital have been unsuccessful, partly because of technical problems and high prices. Oman’s internet and telecommunications sector is monopolized by the government’s Oman Telecommunications Company. The internet is broadly censored, with the Internet Service Manual stipulating a lengthy list of prohibited content, including defamation of the ruling family and false data or rumors. Authorities post ads on local websites warning users that they may be censored or questioned for criticizing the government or the sultan. Numerous websites were blocked in 2007, often arbitrarily. In January, the founder of the popular chat room Al-Sablah al-Omania and 10 others were arrested for posting comments criticizing government officials. Six of the defendants eventually received fines of up to 4,000 rials (US$10,000), and one defendant received a one-month prison sentence. The founder and three remaining defendants were acquitted, but the site was shut down.