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.

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20 thoughts on “Saudi Gov Releases New Law for Online Media

  1. ASA,
    Seems like a way to choke the blog sphere and electronic media to death through fear. I mean who really has an editor besides themselves except for major news sources blogs like HuffPost or NYT or join blogs.. really?
    And then needing to have the editors approved? Bah!
    Note how this is really not inclusive to women at all.. as a Saudi woman would have to have someone else register her blog for her – since its through the government. Oh joy.

    Not that things are looking any better in the US with net neutrality the big thing.

    Sigh.. I guess we just have to ignore the stupid law and do whats right.

  2. lol@ dead tree newspapers!

    r u sure u wont register?

    And doesnt d law say anything abt non-Saudi citizens who want to register? Or may be they r not even allowed to??!

    • Pretty sure I won’t. Non-Saudis are not allowed to register the items mentioned in the fifth article, but the law apply to them all the same if they are already have something running.

  3. This new “law” is just more proof that social media is an effective agent of change in Saudi. It is official recognition that blogs like this are influential, honest and powerful means of getting people to think on their own and question the status quo.

    The good news is, I think, that the law is too little too late.

    People have already come to accept, respect and even expect social media to give them the information they know the government keeps out of traditional media outlets. It has, in many ways, become the source-of-choice for a new generation of Saudis who want more and are no longer willing to settle for less.

    Hang in there, Ahmed. You’re doing great!

  4. Oh, the freedom to breath and think without looking over your shoulder wondering if you are breathing or thinking ‘correctly’.

  5. Obviously there is no need whatever for any such law. These guys are just making work for themselves. Somebody gets promoted to run the controlling organisation.

    With any luck they will be more interested in their pay checks than in any activity.

  6. الاخ سعودي جنز
    بالنسبه للشروط والقوانين فهي بلا شك تحاول خنق المدونين عن التعبير عما يطرحون
    ولكن كيف تكون حرية التعبير بقصقصة مقال او خطاب او رساله او قصور الكتابه على البعض وحرمانها عن اخرين!

    انا ارى
    ان الكتابه فن وذوق(مثل القياده)
    كلاَ منا له طريقته بالكتابه والاحتجاج او نقل شكوى معينه والتعبير عن رأيه
    ومن يتجاوز يتم تنبيهه بشكل سلمي او ياخذون عليه تعهد بعدم التجاوز مره اخرى (هذا في حال التجاوز المعترف عليه دوليا وليس سعوديا )
    فعلى سبيل المثال

    هذه الايام بدأت بالمطالبه بالبحث والسؤال عمن يستمع لمجموعه نساء تعرضوا لمواقف لايمكن السكوت عنها
    ولكونهم ارسلوا برقيات وخطابات للامراء الا انهم لم يتوصلوا لاي حل ولم يستجب لهم احد
    فكتبت استنجاد للنظر اليهم
    واتمنى من الجميع قرأة الرساله التي كتبتها كمقال ووضعتها بمدونتي لانها طويله
    واطلب منكم فضلا لا امر الاطلاع عليها
    ثم اعطائي رايئكم بها
    واتمنى ان يتبنى احدكم القضيه المطروحه كما تبنيتها انا بمدونتي
    وارجو ان يتم نشر مافي المقاله في جميع المدونات حتى يصل صوت النساء المظلومين والذين ذكرت بعض التفاصيل التي تعرضو لها
    البيانات التي طرحتها انا المسئولة عنها كليا لان احد المتضررات هي قريبتي

    لذلك من سيساعدنا بنشر المضمون عليه ان يتاكد ان كل شي ذكرتها بها حصل وصحيح
    وان المتضررات السديات المتقدمين بالشكوى هم ٨ سيدات على الاقل )لان البقيه كانوا خائفين (
    وهذا رابط المقال hive/2011/1/1318216.html

    وشكرا سلفا للجميع

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