Wrong Side

News websites in Saudi Arabia have problems. But the answer to their problems is not regulation by the government, and the Ministry of Culture and Information’s idea to codify an internet law is dumb. I don’t see why anyone thinking of starting a website would want to ask for a license, or wait for the ministry to approve their editors. I guess the fact that the owners of these news websites have agreed to be under the supervision of the ministry says something about their understanding of press freedom and the so-called “professional integrity.” At a time when people go to the internet to seek more freedom and free themselves of old red lines and censorship, news websites in my country are running backwards. What’s next? Are they going to ask bloggers to register their blogs with the ministry?

Three words: not gonna happen.

20 thoughts on “Wrong Side

  1. If the online news sites are under the same government body as the offline newspapers, as is being proposed, they would become a means of reading convenience rather than genuinely alternative sites.

    However, as far as I know news sites in other countries also fall under the same government regulations and laws as the print or electronic media. This brings the problem back to restrictions on press freedom in Saudi no matter what the modality of the new transmission.

    Blogs are also subject to certain laws, like libel laws; and if they are claiming certain expertise, or handling money, certain financial and fraud laws.

    Hopefully, none in Saudi would be classified as news and rolled into the same governing body that controls other “press” offline, and now potentially online.

  2. I believe that the notion to regulate the internet to be futile.

    Computer experts will be able to readily easily evade such restrictions. Such experts are found primarily among youth.

    However, such restrictions will afect non-youth, as well as the poor.

    Nevrtheless, the force of the internet is too great to be stopped by such regulation.

    At most, it may slow down information.

  3. This regulation is seen all over the world and is necessary.

    The Federal Trade Commission is doing this in America and it’s a breath of fresh air.

    I work semi-professionally as a videogame journalist. Videogame journalism is in the gutter, game companies repeatedly bribed major videogaming websites such as IGN.com and gamespot.com to give them higher scores. Infact, what do you think an average score is out of 10?

    Does math teach you 5 is average out of 10? In the videogame world, 7/10 means the game is average (Game Informer Magazine literally states that 7 means average in their scale!).

    Sites like Metacritic know this. To get a “green” rating from Metacritic a movie,book or music album must get a 61 or higher to be considered “recommended”.

    Games? They must score 75 or higher.

    This all happens because the internet is an unregulated mess where anyone can print anything about anything and get away with it.

    You could talk about the monkey rape scene in Super Mario Galaxy 2 even though it doesn’t exist and still call your piece a “review.” Not any longer. The government is simply bringing the regulation of print media to websites and authors who call themselves “journalists”.

    • Actually no, the US is not introducing any kind of regulation against any media. The constitution protects your right to say anything you want as long as it’s not libellous.

      I could start a gamer website tomorrow and give all the games ten if I wanted to. Nothing will happen. The whole point is that, if a person agrees with the rating, then they’re going to return to the website and trust future reviews. If you think the reviews are not very good, you’re not going to trust them.

      Yes, maths does teach you that average means 5, but human psychology tends to analyse 7 as average and anything below that as sub-par.

      There is no need for regulation and people should be allowed to say whatever they want (as long as it’s not harmful to others).

      Anyone else got a feeling that government regulation on media is more to do with making sure no-one criticises the government?

  4. LOL for some reason, as soon as I read this:

    What’s next? Are they going to ask bloggers to register their blogs with the ministry?

    I felt a shiver down my spine. I can almost see them blocking “un-registered” bloggers, but I guess I’m just giving them too much power.

    Hopefully, your last words deliver.

    Not Gonna Happen.

  5. It sounds absurd, but there have been serious attempts to regulate the blogosphere. In Iran in 2007 the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance attempted to regulate blogs, asking bloggers to register their sites, and also committ to not blogging on certain topics.

    Unregistered blogs were considered illegal and some were blocked but after a few months the scheme was dropped as unworkable.

    Thankfully the internet is just too big and dispersed to be controlled, it’s a huge shift away from traditional media like newspapers, radio and tv. There are ways around internet censorship obviously.

    In the most extreme circumstances governments have simply ‘turned-off’ the internet – it happened during the coup in Nepal in 2005 and again in Burma in 2007 during anti-government protests. It’s a scary if remote prospect.

    The problems lie I think where the online and real world interface, ie the arrest and imprisonment of bloggers.

    Yes, the internet is an unregulated mess. Perfect.

  6. I should have added that news sites, blogs, and the internet are also subject to intellectual property laws, plagiarism laws, international crime laws, etc., and because it is global, an internet site can be sued from anywhere in the world. For example, libel laws are more favourable towards the complaintant in England, and a person who was libeled on an internet site could sue under English law, rather than say US law which isn’t as favourable.

    Canada, I’m proud to say, is a leader in detecting and bringing to justice child pornographers and pedophiles online, and was a major contributor to breaking up an international child pedophilia ring.

    This is of course different than news control and country laws that severely restrict what citizens and inhabitants say or write in any form. However, China has been successful in restricting what can be accessed online, even getting Google to modify its own rules to comply in order to gain access there. While some will find ways around it, the masses will not. The average high school student, for example, will not.

    Based on my experience with VERY bright computer savvy MDs from certain MENA countries being able to Google freely in Canada has led to a much revised view of history.

    It all comes back to Saudi national laws on freedom of expression, freedom to dissent, and freedom of the press–or freedom to blog with no more than the usual intellectual property laws, criminal laws, libel laws, fraud and financial laws.

  7. Mohammed S.

    So, the FTC is making sure that paid reviews (i.e. an advertisement) disclose the fact that it is a paid review (i.e. subject to advertisement laws)? How is that the same as censorship and attempting to license media?

    If you look at any user-based rating website, you’ll notice that the average is around 6 or 7. Nevertheless, these numbers themselves have little meaning unless they are accompanied by descriptions, which they were in the web-site you mentioned.

    There is a difference between Media corporations self-censoring and government based attempts at regulating speech. Canadian News outlets are a lot less biased, but there isn’t a law itself that prevents people from reading or posting such information in the US.

    • No. Not paid reviews. Every professional reviewer from movie critics who view early free screenings to book reviewers that get books for free before launch must disclose the fact but videogame news sites don’t. This causes highly inflated reviews and publisher bullying. Gamespot.com fired one of their editors because he gave a videogame that was heavily advertised on their website a 4/10!

      The FTC has started cracking down on websites that trade reviews for money and what have you, if that’s not regulation I don’t know what is.

      Also, look again. Metacritic IS NOT a user-based website. It gathers reviews from large corporations,newspapers and magazines and websites. A dude with a blog is not going to have his review there, you need hundreds of thousands of visitors to your website daily to qualify on metacritic such as IGN.com or Gamespy.com and you still have haven’t disputed my main point:

      On metacritic:
      Books,Movies,TV Shows,Music must receive a 61% or higher to be considered good.

      Videogames must achieve 75% or higher. Why is this? Because the videogame “journalism” industry is completely unregulated and a cesspit of bribes and free swag.

  8. The US has very strong freedom of speech laws that have the unfortunate side effect of sometimes allowing too much freedom of poor quality, dishonest, or even hate speech.

    Canada is far from perfect but CBC, NFB, and TVO documentaries (we excel internationally at documentaries–kind of our Hollywood or Bollywood, sedate version) on US politics, and US wars (and our own too) are eye-opening to all.

    News casts give a different perspective as do European ones. As on many things we are about half way between the US and Europe on this. Arab media even in English give a different and valuable perspective. Some are good on everyone else but their own country due to government controls over what is said “Incountry“.

    So back we are to Saudi national laws and behaviours needing modification.

  9. well… you are much thinking of freedom of speech while those media sites thinking of being more official!.

    first of all.. i work at one of the biggest media sites in ME and i can say that when your site become big and profitable you need things that cannot be done with out gov permission which also won’t happen with out considered formal! you need permissions for advertisement and to legit the profit and to employ people!.

    explain from where you got those punch of mills? good luck explaining that to a gov employee! and how you suppose to do ads. campaigns with out a permission that only can have by owning a license.

    if i own a website that makes me more then a mill a year i would defenatly consider beeing formal because it makes my life way much easier.

    we all seek a freedom of speech but its kinda harsh to judge sites owners for being formal while its the only way that will guarantee they’re growth.

    and BTW all those big sites you see such as google, yahoo, msn and all those big site are formal and registered by the gov of the company’s origin country :)

  10. “The US has very strong freedom of speech laws that have the unfortunate side effect of sometimes allowing too much freedom of poor quality, dishonest, or even hate speech.”

    That side effect is much better than the alternative. The whole point of freedom is that you are free to write (or say, or paint) things which are offensive to the majority.

    • “That side effect is much better than the alternative. The whole point of freedom is that you are free to write (or say, or paint) things which are offensive to the majority.”

      Agreed–but not to propagate hate speech, incite violence, etc., as US law prohibits. Also speech is more controlled by the government and the corporate media companies than is touted, whether by political pressure, law, economics, or some combination, as the Valerie Plame fiasco illustrated; or for fans of Vietnam War History, the censorship of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

      The N* work, the K* word, child pornography, and other topics are rightfully censored.

  11. There are good regulations and bad regulations – as with everything. If bloggers were to register, would they obtain press passes that enabled them to speak with government officials? (a good thing) Or would they just get blocked for failing to register, or risk arrest or other punishment? (a bad thing) Would bloggers be permitted to advertise locally? (a good thing)

    Regulation by the government is appropriate whenever the thing to be regulated can cause serious harms to others, and others can’t easily protect themselves. Nobody questions the need for traffic regulations: it’s pretty hard to prevent crazy drivers from crashing into you, but it’s pretty easy to prevent “dangerous content” from doing so (turn off the computer, don’t read the blog, don’t let your kids surf without supervision…)

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