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A Saudi government body is seeking legal action against journalists and bloggers who “defame” the commission. The move has outraged the kingdom’s media industry.
May 25, 2009 2:36 by Omaima Al-Fardan
Sultan ibn Zahim is a lawyer who represented the commission in a highly publicized case involving the deaths of two young men and two women after the commission chased them in the Al Kulail area of Madinah. The men and women were suspected of being in a state of khulwa (illegal seclusion).
Ibn Zahim defined defamation as journalists reporting incorrect details about incidents involving the commission. He said that he has previously suggested to commission members that they improve relations with the media and use it for their benefit rather than pursuing the judicial route.
Asked about documentation that can protect reporters in cases of libel, he said this could include recordings, faxes and e-mails. He added that the Ministry of Information is the only government body that can question journalists.
Ibn Zahim stressed that commission members can also be questioned and investigated. “They (commission members) are human beings and can make mistakes,” he said.
He said that the commission has not issued guidelines on how its members should conduct themselves. The members are guided by what they themselves view as right or wrong. “They have power, this is something that many do not comprehend,” said ibn Zahim while justifying the right of the commission to inspect and arrest people.
Sheikh Salih Al Shamrani, a religious scholar, said the concept of tash’hir includes information that harms people in society. When asked if criticism would be valid when the subject is institutions or government bodies, he said that such discourse would be useful and might help negativities.
However, when asked if the commission could also be criticized, he said journalists should stay away from such topics because the commission is a body that has contributed in many positive ways to society and does not deserve to be attacked.