Saudi Ties the Tongues of Its Journalists
By: Mariam Abdallah
Published Saturday, June 2, 2012
Once again, Saudi Arabia has adopted a new law that goes against the global trend towards freedom. A few days ago, the Saudi cabinet issued a law proposed by the Information and Culture Minister, Abdel Aziz Khoja, confining the practice of journalism to journalists accredited by the Saudi Journalists Association (SJA).
The law, which is now in effect, transforms the SJA into a governmental body forcing workers in this profession to request membership in the association in order to make their work legitimate. The regime will, of course, interfere in the process of accepting or rejecting applicants’ membership, which in turn will prevent some journalists from writing in Saudi media outlets.
Never in the history of the world press has journalists’ ability to write in newspapers been conditional on their membership in a trade union or association.
Bear in mind that the SJA is not a member of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) because it violates the organization’s conditions. It is not an independent institution and it does not respect the international standards of trade union work.
This most recent decision deprives the Saudi press of many writers that work in independent fields that are not directly related to news journalism, such as women’s issues, cultural issues like cinema, theater and newly published books in addition to Opinion-editorial columnists who are not necessarily journalists.
Many fear that the decision will affect online journalism and the world of free blogs as well. Sixteen newspapers are published in Saudi Arabia, but they are not independent. The Ministry of Interior appoints their editors who in turn control the SJA.
This is the ideal Gulf model where “independent” people who are supposed to represent journalists in civil trade unions occupy what amounts to political posts.
Journalism associations in Gulf countries play a negative role. They do not support journalism, defend journalists or demand freedoms and they abstain from challenging their governments.
They are governmental agencies in the garb of civil society institutions. In the West, Such entities are called GONGOs (government organized non-governmental organizations). They are institutions set up by the state to vie with real civil society institutions.
As such, many Saudi journalists have found themselves caught between a law that prevents them from working and trade unions and associations that do not represent them.
If a problem develops into a lawsuit against a Saudi journalist, the “orphaned” journalist will have to go to the courtroom alone as no newspaper will come to his defense. Instead he will wait for international organizations to stand by him like Reporters Without Borders and the IFJ... But even these organizations can not do anything.
Commenting on the Saudi decision, Adel Marzouk, co-ordinator of the opposition group the Bahrain Press Association (BPA) tells Al-Akhbar: “Arab countries feel no shame in issuing laws and decisions that limit the freedom of the press. These countries are willing to kill a journalist today and imprison another 20 tomorrow... In the meantime, statements are issued stressing that freedom of the press in the country is guaranteed, sacred and the sky is its limit!”
The new law is the latest episode in a series of decisions that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia bestows upon us every now and then. Perhaps we still remember the Publishing Law issued by the Finance Ministry last year imposing severe sanctions and heavy fines on any person who dares to take on a Saudi official or clergyman in writing.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.