The Ministry of Culture and Information (MOCI) is at it again. There is a new directive signed by Ahmad al-Hout, (get this) the acting assistant undersecretary for domestic media affairs, that bans journalists from pretty much doing anything without getting permission from the ministry first.
Al-Hayat daily reports that, based on the new directive, Saudi journalists cannot accept invitations or attend events or training organized by foreign parties working in the Kingdom or abroad. The directive also says that journalists must not do any interviews with these parties or invite their members without coordinating with the ministry and getting their approval first.
I have never heard of Mr. al-Hout before, but a quick search on Google reveals that he probably should not be in this position. He did not go to regular schools: he attended the Scientific Institute, a religious school, starting from seventh grade to the end of high school, and then went to study Sharia at Imam Mohammed bin Saud Islamic University in Riyadh.
His dream, he said, was to become a football referee. But somehow he started his career at the censorship office of Riyadh airport and then made his way up at the ministry to reach the office where he is today. He recently gave an interview on a site called Tareeb News (with some shots of his house), in which he revealed some juicy bits of information such as: what is his speciality (boiled eggs) and what is his favorite holiday destination (northern Italy).
However, the most interesting statement in this interview came when Mr. al-Hout was asked about how he deals with his family. The principle in his dealings with the family, he said, is “sharing in decision-making” and that “freedom of speech is guaranteed to all.”
I’m not sure why Mr. al-Hout seems to think that the democratic principles he says he practices at home do not apply to journalists. Double standards much?
UPDATE 9/2/2011 9:30 ET: when al-Hayat contacted a source at MOCI about how did this new directive, the source simply said: “the directive is based on instructions from higher authorities.” I have asked the minister Abdulaziz Khoja on Twitter about this but he never replied. That’s not surprising, though, the man has not tweeted in six weeks.