Saudi Arabia | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia

Freedom of the Press 2010

2010 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

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

83

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

30

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 condemns any defamation of religious beliefs. Article 39 of the law, in reference to freedom of expression, states that “all acts that foster sedition or division or harm the state’s security and its public relations or detract from man’s dignity and rights shall be prohibited.”
  • Freedom of expression is subject to strict guidelines imposed by a range of additional laws. There is no freedom of information legislation. The Law of Printed Materials and Publication allows censorship of nearly all types of media, affecting printing presses, bookstores, film, television, radio, and the local offices of foreign news outlets. Under the law, authors must submit manuscripts to the Ministry of Interior for approval before publication.
  • All newspapers must obtain licenses from the government, and a media outlet can be legally banned or temporarily suspended if it is deemed to promote “mischief and discord.” The Ministry of Culture and Information (MCI) holds authority to appoint and dismiss senior editors, and provide guidelines on coverage of controversial matters.
  • In August, the MCI closed down the Jeddah and Riyadh offices of the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC), alleging that it had violated media policy. A few days earlier, LBC had aired a program in which a man related his sexual experiences in the country. The man and three friends who accompanied him on the show were arrested, sentenced to prison terms, and given lashes according to Sharia (Islamic law). In October, the court also sentenced LBC journalist Rosanna al-Yami to 60 lashes and a two-year travel ban, but the king waived the lashes several days later.
  • All journalists must register with the MCI, and foreign journalists face visa obstacles and restrictions on their movement. Both local and foreign publications are often banned, censored, or delayed.
  • Journalists who offend authorities can face fines, detention, interrogation, dismissal, and harassment. As a result, self-censorship is widespread, and media outlets often avoid criticizing the royal family, Islam, or religious authorities. However, there were isolated instances during 2009 in which the government did not punish journalists for critical reporting. After the November floods in Jeddah, for example, journalists were able to comment on the government response without repercussions.
  • Harassment of journalists through legal means is more common than physical harassment.
  • The government owns and operates all domestic broadcast media, and content is heavily censored. Most privately owned print media are connected to the government or royal family, which exert control through means including the approval or rejection of new editors.
  • Although satellite dishes are considered illegal, millions of them are reportedly used to access foreign programming, and there have been no government crackdowns on the practice.
  • Bribery and a culture of giving gifts to journalists are widespread. The gifts can include small items, larger purchases, or various favors and concessions.
  • About 38 percent of the population used internet in 2009, but the government heavily censors internet traffic. Legal access to the internet is only available through the government. A 2001 cabinet resolution prohibits internet users from publishing or obtaining content that is “contrary to the state or its system.” The authorities continue to block blogs, websites, and pages on the Twitter microblogging service that comment on political, social, religious, and human rights issues. In July 2009, prominent blogger Raafat al-Ghanem was arrested and detained for criticizing the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. He had also supported the blogger Laitaibi and writer Khaled Omair, who were arrested in early 2009 after organizing a Riyadh protest against an Israeli military campaign in Gaza.