The authorities of this closed country tightly control the media. Criticism of the government, the royal family, the heads of foreign states or the religious hierarchy is liable to a prison sentence.

After the 11 September attacks the international media were focused on Saudi Arabia. The kingdom was criticised by US media for its half-hearted efforts to fight terrorism. This was an opportunity to "discover" a regime that international organisations had been denouncing for years for multiple human rights violations.

As regards the press – consisting of ten dailies and dozens of magazines – the kingdom has implemented a policy that allows each major region one daily. For example, Al Madina is published in Madinah, Oukaze in Jiddah, Al Riyad in the capital, and so on.

The 1982 royal decree on the press and publications forces journalists to practise strict self-censorship. Any criticism of the government, the royal family, heads of state of friendly countries or religious leaders is liable to prosecution and imprisonment. Since its introduction into the kingdom in 1999, the Internet has been under close surveillance by a department of the "King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology" which screens all sites consulted and blocks those not in keeping with moral standards or Islam.

Yet with increasing numbers of satellite dishes – it was Saudi Arabia that launched the first Arabic satellite TV channel, MBC, in 1991 in London – the authorities have had to give the press a bit more rope. Saudi Arabian media have thus started publishing news that was previously censored. Journalists now address subjects such as bad treatment of domestic servants or increasing unemployment.

In September the English-language daily Arab News published an article on a woman who was able to save her husband's life by driving him to hospital. The information was presented in a positive light even though the law strictly prohibits women from driving.


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