Censorship in Saudi Arabia
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Books, newspapers, magazines, broadcast media and Internet access are censored in Saudi Arabia.
In 2014, Reporters Without Borders described the government as "relentless in its censorship of the Saudi media and the Internet", and ranked Saudi Arabia 164th out of 180 countries for freedom of the press.
Law and operation
The Royal Decree On Press and Publications (1982) set up the initial government regulation of Saudi books, newspapers and magazines, as well as all foreign publications sold in the kingdom. In addition to obtaining government permission, the Saudi citizen creating and distributing the content, had to ensure that it did not cause sectarian tension among citizens, or insult the royal family or Islamic values.
In 1992 the "Basic Law of Governance" was enacted as an informal Constitution. Article 39 of the kingdom's "Basic Law of Governance" states that
Mass media and all other vehicles of expression shall employ civil and polite language, contribute towards the education of the nation and strengthen unity. It is prohibited to commit acts leading to disorder and division, affecting the security of the state and its public relations, or undermining human dignity and rights. Details shall be specified in the Law.
The Ministry of Interior has "responsibility for all the Saudi media and other channels of information". The ministry has been called the "main agent of censorship" in the kingdom. It is charged with the `purification` of culture prior to it being permitted circulation to the public. A special unit, the Management of Publications department, "analyzes all publications and issues directives to newspapers and magazines" stating that way in which a given topic must be treated.
According to the Encyclopedia of Censorship
There is no precensorship of publications but if any material goes against a directive, or more generally qualifies as `impure`, the department will check it and notify the minister of information, who decides in what way and to what extent the publication and its employees are to be punished. The main effect of this system has been to impose on journalists rigorous self-censorship.
Cybercrime and The Internet
Saudi Arabia directs all international Internet traffic through a proxy farm located in King Abdulaziz City for Science & Technology. A content filter is implemented there, based on software by Secure Computing. Since October 2006, the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) has been handling the DNS structure and filtering in Saudi Arabia in the place of KACST. Additionally, a number of sites are blocked according to two lists maintained by the Internet Services Unit (ISU): one containing "immoral" (mostly pornographic or supportive of LGBT-rights) sites and sites promoting Shia Ideology, the others based on directions from a security committee run by the Ministry of Interior (including sites critical of the Saudi government). An interesting feature of this system is that citizens are encouraged to actively report "immoral" sites (mostly adult and pornographic) for blocking, using a provided web form, available on the government's website.
The initial legal basis for content filtering is the resolution by Council of Ministers dated 12 February 2001. According to a study carried out in 2004 by the Open Net Initiative "the most aggressive censorship focused on pornography, drug use, gambling, religious conversion of Muslims, and filtering circumvention tools."
This resolution was subsequently modified and expanded into The Anti-Cyber Crime Law (2007). Article 6 of this royal decree makes it a crime to produce, possess, distribute, transmit or store Internet content or a computer program that involves gambling, human trafficking, pornography or anything deemed to be against Islam, public morals or public order.
On 11 July 2006 the Saudi government blocked access to Wikipedia and Google Translate, which was being used to bypass the filters on the blocked sites by translating them.
In 2011, the Saudi government introduced new Internet rules and regulations that require all online newspapers and bloggers to obtain a special license from the Ministry of Culture and Information. The Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) is responsible for regulating the Internet and for hosting a firewall which blocks access to thousands of websites, mainly due to sexual and political content.
As of 2014, Saudi Arabia has plans to regulate local companies producing input for YouTube. The General Authority for Audiovisual Media, a recently formed watchdog, will issue a public declaration to regulate the work of YouTube channels. They plan to censor material that is "terrorist" in nature which according to the proposed rule will be any content that "disturbs public order, shakes the security of society, or subjects its national unity to danger, or obstructs the primary system of rule or harms the reputation of the state".
Any speech or public demonstration that is deemed to be immoral or critical of the government, especially the royal family, can lead to imprisonment or corporal punishment.
Saudi and foreign newspapers and magazines, including advertising, are strictly controlled by censorship officials to remove content that is offensive. Newspapers and magazines must not offend or criticize the Wahabi Muslims and especially The Royal family, Wahabi government officials or government version of Islamic morality.
Censorship of foreign newspapers and magazines tends to focus on content of sexual nature. Nudity and pornography are illegal in the kingdom and this can extend to inking out public displays of affections, e.g., hugging and kissing; Similarly, the uncovered arms and legs of women and men or anything deemed to be promoting "sexual immorality", such as adultery, fornication, sodomy or homosexuality is also illegal. What is more, the advertising for driving classes for women is banned, in keep with the restrictions of the kingdom.
In 1994, all Saudi women magazines were banned by the Ministry of Information. This move was considered to be related to the pressures of the religious establishment or ulema. After this ban, nineteen of twenty-four magazines closed down since their major revenue was advertisement earnings paid by the Saudi companies.
Film and television
Public cinemas were illegal after 1980 when conservative clerics deemed cinemas to be a waste of time and a corrupting influence. They were eventually re-legalized in 2018.
In 2007, permission was granted to two hotels to screen American children's films, to celebrate the end of Ramadan. The following year, the first Saudi film festival took place.
Television and radio news, educational and entertainment 2008 after disgruntled callers on a live show on Al-Ikhbariya news channel displayed discontent with the latest governmental salary increases and made critical remarks of some Saudi officials. The minister of Culture and Information then fired the network's director, Muhammad Al-Tunsy, and replaced him with one of his personal assistants. The minister also formed a censorship committee of which the approval would be required prior to airing any program or inviting any guests on national television stations. The legal status of satellite receivers is in something of a grey area.
In 1994, the government banned ownership of satellite television receivers but throughout the 1990s, an increasingly large percentage of the population bought a satellite receiver and subscribed to various programming packages. Despite the ban, the Saudi government was, generally, willing to tolerate satellite television as long as the programming content was not pornographic, critical of the Saudi government or Islam.
In 2005, two episodes of American Dad!, Stan of Arabia: Part 1 and Part 2, were banned by the Saudi government. The English daily ArabNews published an article that accused the series of "a particularly brutal portrayal of Saudis and Saudi Arabia"; although some of what was being shown, such as intolerance of homosexuality as well as the ban of alcohol, was true. As a result, the two-part episode was banned in Saudi Arabia, although the rest of the TV series itself can still be seen.
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- Saudi Arabia bans blogging without a licence by Emma Woollacott, 6 January 2011
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- No cinemas but Saudi Arabia to hold first film festival CBC.ca 19 February 2008
- Saudi Arabia profile Open Net Initiative, 6/Aug/2009
- New satellite TV channels begin broadcasts By Nawaf Afat, Saudi Gazette, 18 December 2009
- Will ‘American Dad’ Define the Saudis for Us? Michael Saba, ArabNews, 15 December 2005
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- The self-censored world of Saudi social media by William Bauer, 25 October 2012
- Internet filtering in KSA