Saudi Arabia | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia

Freedom of the Press 2009

2009 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

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

82

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

29

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

25
  • The media environment in Saudi Arabia is among the most repressive in the Arab world. The Basic Law does not guarantee press freedom, and journalists who offend the authorities and other powerful actors face fines, detention, interrogation, dismissal, and harassment.
  • All newspapers must be licensed with the government, and any media outlet can be legally banned or temporarily suspended if it is deemed to promote “mischief and discord,” compromises “the security of the state and its public image,” or “offends a man’s dignity and rights.” Following a January incident in which audience members made angry comments about senior government officials, the Ministry of Culture and Information (MCI) banned all future live broadcasts in the country.
  • The kingdom does not have official freedom of information legislation. Access to information has improved over the past few years, though it remains limited.
  • The government exerts a high level of influence and editorial control over media outlets. The MCI must approve and appoint all senior editors, and it has the ability to remove them at will. The government routinely issues “guidelines” to newspapers detailing how they should cover controversial issues.
  • All journalists must register with the MCI, and foreign journalists face visa obstacles and restrictions on their movement. Foreign publications are often banned, censored, or delayed. Media outlets engage in extraordinary levels of self-censorship, carefully avoiding criticism of the royal family, Islam, or religious authorities.
  • While journalists are occasionally harassed or intimidated, there were no reports of violent attacks on members of the press in 2008. However, on three occasions during the year, Saudi clerics issued religious edicts against journalists in the Arab world.
  • There are 10 daily newspapers in Saudi Arabia; all are privately owned, but most owners are either members of the royal family or are associated with them or the government. Newspapers that criticize the kingdom are banned. In a positive move, several new independent newspapers were started during 2008.
  • The government owns and operates all domestic broadcast media, and government censors remove references deemed offensive to Islam. Satellite television has become widespread despite its illegal status.
  • Bribery and the culture of giving gifts to journalists are widespread. Gifts can include small items, major purchases like cars, or favors and concessions to friendly journalists.
  • About 22 percent of the population used the internet in 2008. In 2006, the government approved the first law to combat “electronic crimes,” criminalizing defamation on the internet and computer hacking. E-mail and chat rooms are reportedly monitored by the Saudi Telecommunications Company (STC), and the government increasingly blocks certain blogs and harasses their authors. Blogger Fouad Ahmed al-Farhan, who was arrested in December 2007, was released in April 2008 without formal charges ever being filed. In November, poet and blogger Roshdi Algadir was detained, beaten, and forced to sign an agreement stating that he would never again publish his work online, after being accused of apostasy.