MOCI new law, women’s driving, marrying (and cheating) foreigners

  • One thing that I failed to mention in my last blogpost about the new online media law is that MOCI has broken one of their promises. Back in March 2010, Abdulrahman al-Hazza said the ministry has no plans to pre-approve the editors of news website like they do with newspapers. The text of the law that came out on Saturday listed the approval of the editor-in-chief by the ministry as one of the conditions to register an “electronic newspaper.” MOCI keeps saying that they are extending a hands to us and we should trust them, but how are we supposed to trust them when they can’t even keep their word?
  • Over 100 Saudi citizens signed an open letter to the Shoura Council, asking the Council to discuss the issue of women’s driving. I know, I know. It is indeed sad that we are still discussing this, but that’s Saudi Arabia for you. The signatories suggested a trial period for women’s driving, where women are only allowed to drive in a certain city during a certain time of the day, among other conditions and restrictions. I see what they are trying to do, which is to find a practical approach to implement this, but honestly I hate this gradual oh-let’s-consider-the-feelings-of-our-super-senseitive-society way to do things. A basic right is a basic right. Let’s get this over with and move on.
  • American Bedu has a nice interview with Tariq al-Maeena, columnist for Arab News. I met Tariq in Jeddah during the Saudi BlogCamp. I find it strange that despite being married to an American, he does not encourage Saudis to marry foreigners and thinks the government should have some stringent demands before approving a Saudi’s request for a foreign partner.
  • It rained in Jeddah again, and again it was pretty bad.
  • During my time in Riyadh I had a chance to closely watch the expat community there. One fascinating aspect of that community, of course, was the relationships between men and women. The interaction between the expats and the social restrictions of the city creates an interesting dynamic, although I have to admit that listening to their gossip sometimes felt like watching some lame soap opera. But if this is your thing, then you should read orchidthief’s blogpost about cheating among the expat community.
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Saudi Gov Releases New Law for Online Media

It’s finally here.

After months of uneasy waiting and gestation, the Saudi ministry of culture and information (MOCI) has bestowed its new law for regulating online publishing upon us. According to the state news agency, minister Abdulaziz Khoja has approved the addition of a new set of rules and guidelines to the current publishing law concerning the new forms of publishing on the Internet and mobile phones.

Before delving into some of the highlights of the new old law -new in its terminology, old in its spirit- allow me to congratulate the ministry on their exquisite sense of timing. Although the law has been in the works for months, the first few signs were made public on the country’s national day back in September, and now the details of the law are released on new year’s day. The ministry knows this is exactly how we want to start the second decade of the millennium.

The ministry of culture and information, being on the cutting edge of all things tech, has made the new law available for download as a Word document on their website here. If you have not been following this story, here is some background.

Now let’s take a look at some of the articles in the law. Some of the expressions and sentences may sound very clunky, that’s because I’m trying to stick to literal translation.

The first article is basically a list definitions. Boring. The second article details the forms of electronic publishing that the new law covers, and those include:

  1. Electronic journalism
  2. Websites of traditional media (tv, radio, newspapers, magazine, etc)
  3. Forums
  4. Blog
  5. Websites displaying audio and visual material
  6. Electronic advertisement
  7. Broadcasting via mobile phones (messages, news, ads, pictures, etc)
  8. Broadcasting via other messages (messages, news, ads, pictures, etc)
  9. Personal websites
  10. Mail lists
  11. Electronic archive
  12. Chat rooms
  13. Any other form of electronic publishing that the ministry may choose to add

Obviously, MOCI wants to extend its control over everything. No surprise here; government bodies in general are well known for their obsession with control. The weird thing is that they also want to regulate advertising online, plus two other things that I don’t really understand: broadcasting via other messages and electronic archive. What are they talking about?

MOCI are kind enough to tell us of the goals behind this new law:

  1. Supporting benevolent electronic media
  2. Regulating the activity of electronic publishing in the Kingdom
  3. Protecting society from malpractices in electronic publishing
  4. Declaring the rights and duties of workers in electronic publishing
  5. Protecting the rights of individuals to create and register any form of electronic publishing
  6. Protecting the rights of individuals to petition concerned authorities in the case of grievance
  7. Support and patronage of the ministry for electronic websites and their employees by facilitating their work

This is MOCI’s rationale for why they think this law is such a great idea. It is not, according to most people I’ve talked to. Protecting society? I don’t recall hearing the society screaming for help. Protecting individuals’ rights to publish online? Hey, we kind of have been doing this for a while now, and we really don’t need your protection and/or permission. Instead of trying to support the newly born online media, why don’t you try to improve the state news agency and television channels? They have been barely surviving on life-support for a long time.

The fifth article lists the forms of online publishing that need permission:

  1. Electronic journalism
  2. Websites of traditional media (tv, radio, newspapers, magazine, etc)
  3. Electronic advertisement
  4. Websites displaying audio and visual material
  5. Broadcasting via mobile phones (messages, news, ads, pictures, etc)
  6. Broadcasting via other messages (messages, news, ads, pictures, etc)

The sixth article lists the forms of online publishing that may be registered:

  1. Forums
  2. Blogs
  3. Personal websites
  4. Mail lists
  5. Electronic archive
  6. Chat rooms

Apparently this is the distinction that Abdul Rahman al-Hazza was talking about in September of last year. Bloggers do not need permission, but they may register if they want. Why would any blogger do that is beyond me, but if I understand this correctly, the distinction does not mean anything because whether you register or not you would still be operating under this law. That means the government, or anyone else, really, can use the law and its stretchy articles and loopholes against you in court if they believe you have violated any of them, and the punishment can be very severe.

The seventeenth article of the law details the penalty of violating any part of this law, which includes monetary fines and blocking your website, partially or completely, temporarily or permanently.

I have no plan to register my blog with MOCI, but if you are considering that choice you probably want to know that not anyone can do this as they please. To register, a Saudi citizen must be at least 20 years old with a high school degree or above, and if you plan to launch a so-called “electronic newspaper,” the ministry must approve of your editor-in-chief, just like they do for dead tree newspapers. The law says the editor is held accountable for all content published on the website, but says nothing readers’ comments. Is the editor also held accountable for those?

Another worrying piece in the law says those who get permission must provide the ministry with the information of their hosting company. We can conclude from this that MOCI won’t simply block your website for readers inside the country, but they can also deny access to your website from anywhere by forcing the hosting company to take your site offline altogether. Scary.

What do you think about all of this? Discuss.

Read more:

Saudi TV staff not paid, MOE strange transformation

  • Why state tv channels suck? Because people are not getting paid. Arab News says the producers and presenters of the early morning show “Good Morning Saudi Arabia” on Ch1 have not received their salaries for the last two months. The production company that makes the show said it has not been able to pay workers because it has not received payment from Saudi Television. I’m not surprised. I have heard many similar stories from people I know who have worked in the past with Ch1 and Ch2.
  • According to Saudi Gazette, a crowd gathered at the Ministry of Education (MOE) in Riyadh on Sunday to express their objections on “Shariah grounds” to the visit of deputy minister Norah al-Faiz to a boys’ school in Al-Zulfi last week. The Ministry issued a statement on Sunday saying that deputy minister Faisal Bin Mu’ammar met with the protesters who submitted a range of proposals related to the work of the ministry which will be studied. I can’t help but share the amazement of Khalaf al-Harbi at this soft stance and really strange transformation of MOE, which just a few days took a very strict, some even said aggressive, stance against the teachers who have been demanding the ministry for what many people view as fair demands.

Sultan al-Qahtani’s newest crush, MOCI and their law

  • Elaph’s Sultan al-Qahtani has a piece on the increasing popularity of Qatar’s first lady Sheikha Mozah Al Missned. She has recently visited the country and met with King Abdullah. Apparently Saudi girls have a crush on her, hanging her posters on their walls and looking up to her as a role model. The Sheikha is popular, no question about it. My question is: does Sultan al-Qahtani have a crush on Karen Elliott House? The former foreign editor and publisher of WSJ is currently in Riyadh, working on a new book about Saudi Arabia. Al-Qahtani quotes House in his piece, saying when they met in Khozama Hotel her eyes were “beaming beauty and hope.” Al-Qahtani quotes three other women in the short article, including fellow blogger Sarah Matar, but he fails to mention anything about their eyes.
  • If you think that I have been overreacting to MOCI’s proposed plan to regulate the internet, go read this article by Iman al-Guwaifli. In the article, Iman quotes the aforementioned Abdulrahman al-Hazzaa saying the new regulation will include “all websites, blogs and forums.” Once the new law is enacted they plan to list all websites, and in the future they hope site owners will contact them before launching their websites. “Everybody will be given a chance to register, but the law will be enforced on everyone,” he said. Fouad is waiting for MOCI to come out with a clarification to what Iman wrote, but I doubt they will do such thing. MOCI just don’t get it.

Fouad is back, Why are we never ready?

  • My good friend and fellow blogger Fouad al-Farhan has finally decided to restart his blog after more than two years of hiatus. During these two years, he experimented with Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr, but he eventually admitted that there is nothing like blogging as a platform for personal publishing. Fouad is one of the most prominent people in the Saudi blogosphere, and I’m sure the whole blogging community is delighted to have him writing at length again. Welcome back, Fouad! You have been missed.
  • Abdulrahman al-Hazzaa, deputy minister of information and culture, keeps pushing for MOCI’s proposed law for regulating news websites in this column for Okaz daily. His latest argument: we are not ready for the freedom offered by such websites. We’ve heard this argument before. Government officials like al-Hazzaa keep telling us that we are not ready for civil society, not ready for elections, not ready of democracy, etc. We are pretty much not ready for anything, until they say we are, which, depending on their whims, can be next decade, next century, or sometimes never.
  • A little housekeeping note: the short linky posts are open to comments again. When I redesigned the blog earlier this year, I decided to close comments on these posts as an experiment. As part of the experiment, all posts are open to comments now. Let’s see how that goes.

Earth Hour in KSA, Musk Lake renamed

  • Saudi Arabia will observe Earth Hour tomorrow for the first time, but Khalaf al-Harbi says he won’t be joining everybody else for this event. Why? Because the Saudi Electricity Company (SEC) has already forced him to observe it more than three times this week in three different districts in Riyadh and at different times of the day and night. Can you blame him?
  • The government is apparently unhappy about the sarcastic name Jeddawis have given to the Musk Lake. The Ministry of Culture and Information (MOCI) has sent a directive to local newspapers and magazines asking them to stop using the infamous name and use the long and boring “Water Sanitation Lake in Jeddah” instead. I understand what the government is trying to do, but I don’t think they can force the people and the media to use the new name. Of course the government are free to, and should, use it in their communications, but for the rest of us I think the Musk Lake name is here to stay, at least for a few more years.
  • What the beautifying committee of Khafji needs is a better translator:

MOCI’s stupid law is ready

MOCI are done working on their new law for regulating news websites. A spokesman for the ministry said the new law will also apply to websites of print newspapers, but the ministry does not plan to pre-approve their editors like they do with the dead tree news organisations. If the websites break the regulations, he added, they will be blocked. I guess that’s what this is all about. Making it easier for MOCI to block websites that they don’t like. The kind of enthusiasm and energy MOCI has put into this dumb idea is amazing. I only wish they would put this amazing effort into something more useful. But hey, that would be expecting way too much of them.