The country remains one of world’s biggest enemies of press freedom. Two journalists were dismissed in 2006 for going beyond the limits set by the dominant ultra-conservative religious authorities.
The Saudi regime maintains very tight control of all news and self-censorship is pervasive. Enterprising journalists pay dearly for the slightest criticism of the authorities or the policies of “brother Arab” countries. The tame local media content means most Saudis get their news and information from foreign TV stations and the Internet. But the Qatar-based satellite station Al-Jazeera, which is banned in Saudi Arabia, was not allowed to cover the annual pilgrimage to Mecca for the fourth year running in 2006.
Journalist Fawaz Turki, of the government daily Arab News, was dismissed in April for writing about the atrocities perpetrated by Indonesia, a Muslim country, during its 1975-99 occupation of East Timor. He had previously been warned for criticising Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in print.
The regime directly censored some journalists. The culture and information ministry told journalist Kinan ben Abdallah al-Ghamidi without explanation on 30 November that he could no longer write in the government daily Al Watan. He had already been forced to resign as the paper’s editor in 2002 after reporting that US troops were using the country’s military bases.
The privately-owned daily Shams was closed for a month on 16 February and its editor, Battal Alkus, dismissed for reprinting some of the cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed first carried by a Danish paper in September 2005.
Unlike in China, where a blocked website is passed off as a technical problem, Saudi filters say openly that certain pages on a site have been censored by the authorities. Targets are mostly pornography, but also political opposition, Israeli publications and homosexuality.
Blogs are a problem for the censors, who tried in 2005 to completely bar access to the country’s main blog-tool, blogger.com. They gave up after a few days and now just censure blogs they object to, such as “Saudi Eve,” the diary of a young woman who discusses her love life and criticises government censorship, which was added to the blacklist in June 2006.