Status: Not Free
Legal Environment: 28 (of 30)
Political Environment: 29 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 24 (of 30)
Total Score: 81 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)

The media environment in Saudi Arabia remained among the most repressive in the Arab world in 2007. The Basic Law does not provide for press freedom, leaving the media to be regulated under the 1963 Publishing and Printing Law. The 49 provisions of the law cover the establishment of media outlets, the rights and responsibilities of journalists, and penalties for violation. The press, according to the government and the conservative religious establishment, is a tool to educate the masses, propagate government views, and promote national unity. Criticism of the royal family and the religious authorities is forbidden, and press offenses are punishable by fines and imprisonment. Media outlets in Saudi Arabia are administered by the Ministry of Culture and Information, which uses laws, decrees, and interventions by the royal family to restrict media freedom.

Journalists face harassment and detention upon publishing material deem objectionable by the authorities and threat of arrest, interrogation, dismissal, and harassment inspires a significant degree of self-censorship. The Saudi government has also been known to directly censor the media, confiscating print runs and shutting down newspapers temporarily, or permanently in some instances. In one incident in August 2007, the government confiscated copies of the Saudi daily Al-Hayat, after one of its contributors criticized the health care system in the Kingdom. All journalists must register with the Ministry of Information, and foreign journalists face visa obstacles and restrictions on freedom of movement. The Ministry also controls the Saudi Journalists Association's governing board by allowing only approved candidates to run in its elections. Female journalists in Saudi Arabia face discrimination similar that facing women in Saudi society more broadly. This discrimination includes lesser pay, discouragement from working as freelancers, and being forced to solely cover topics related to women, family, and children. As a result, many female writers publish under aliases.

There are 10 daily newspapers in Saudi Arabia, all owned by either the government, members of the royal family or their associates. Broadcast media are also controlled by the government, which owns and operates all domestic television and radio stations. Satellite television has become widespread despite its illegal status and is an important source of foreign news; nonetheless, much of the satellite industry is controlled by Saudi investors and is respectful of local sensibilities.

About 17 percent of Saudi residents used the internet in 2007. King Abdul-Aziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) – a government institution charged with developing and coordinating internet-related policies – is the sole gateway for Saudi internet users and manages the connections between the national and international internet. Although the authorities approved applications for over 40 privately owned internet service providers in 1998, all are linked to the main server at KACST. Through KACST, the government continues to block and filter websites deemed offensive, critical, or immoral. Updated lists of undesirable websites are continuously fed to the filters, and users attempting to access banned sites receive warnings and are told that their attempts are being recorded. In 2006, the Saudi government approved the first law to combat "electronic crimes", defined as defamation on the internet and computer hacking.

Given the restricted environment for print and broadcast media, recent years have seen a significant rise in the number of Saudi blogs – published by both male and female online writers – totaling several thousand websites. The Saudi government has increasingly responded by blocking select blogs and harassing authors of others. In a moved criticized by press freedom watchdogs and the blogging community, in December 2007, the authorities detained the Saudi blogger Fouad Ahmed al-Farhan, who authored a popular pro-reform site. He remained in custody at year's end.

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