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Press Freedom in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has one of the most censored media environments in the world, according to Freedom House, an advocacy group that monitors the freedom in the countries around the world. The content in Saudi Arabia's domestic mass media is under the control of the government, having to pass through censors before it makes it on air or in print. Furthermore, while the press is said to be privately owned, the editor-in-chief of each newspaper is appointed by the government.

Furthermore, the government has some of the strictest Internet practices in the world. Criticism of the government, the royal family, or religious leaders and their decisions tends to not be tolerated, and does not pass the censors. In some cases, it can lead to journalists being banned and news offices closing in the kingdom.

In this tightly-controlled media environment, there is much that cannot be said.

Saudis are looking elsewhere for uncensored news and entertainment. They are finding it through satellite signals. Even though technically it is illegal to own a satellite dish in the country, the skyline of every city is dotted with them on people's rooftops.

Press Freedom in Other Countries

The United States

Freedom House judges press freedom in the United States as free, with a great deal of coverage of the presidential campaign from both sides of the political spectrum. Journalists in the United States also carried out in-depth investigations into possible corruption cases over the past years. If it wasn't for the freedom of the press, how would have the Watergate scandal have broken?

New York City Reporter on the Street

A journalist reports from Times Square, NYC. Obtained from Herve Boinay on Flickr. The image is under a Creative Commons license.

One thing journalists have in the United States that those in Saudi Arabia are greatly lacking is that freedom of speech is protected under the American constitution, which grants journalists the right to uncover things that would not necessarily be uncovered and reported on had they not been granted those rights.

Furtermore, journalists in many US states are protected by shield laws, which protect them from unjustified subpoenas.

Other Middle Eastern Countries

Some people may be quick to paint the Middle East countries with a broad brush. However, each country in the region has its own characteristics, creating a diverse region with subtle nuances. The state of each country's media is one of those nuances.

While Freedom House lists most of the countries in the Middle East as "not free," - in fact, the only Arab countries in the Middle East listed as "partly free" are Kuwait and Lebanon - each country's lack of freedom is different, but all of them lead to the same thing - opressed journalists.

For Instance, freedom of the press in Yemen is guaranteed under the Yemeni constitution, but only within the limits of the law. These limits could easily be manipulated by the government if they wished to keep the press from coming out with something.

Furthermore, in Bahrain, the government controls all broadcast media, both radio and television, and journalists in Syria are often detained.