Say something nice, or nothing at all
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
On the ministry’s role in protecting reporters who are accused by the commission of defaming them, Abdullah Al Jasir, the deputy minister of information in charge of media affairs, said that the ministry has three committees in charge of publication violations and that one of these committees is in charge of violations by journalists.
The committee, he said, includes officials from the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Justice, and other government bodies. He added that journalists accused of publishing misleading information would face an inquiry and that the published story or article would be studied.
Punishment, he said, does not involve imprisonment but comprises fines starting from SR50,000 (US 13,335) and could include a ban on the journalist writing. He added that the publication would be asked to publish a correction at the same place where the defamatory article first appeared.
It is not only the definition of defamation that is a point of contention. An opinion writer who has had run-ins with the commission fears legal proceedings might muzzle writers.
“I see this statement as a threat to writers not to cross the commission or talk about it. It is sending a clear message to all opinion writers not to address commission issues,” said Mohammad Al Suhaimi, who has criticized the commission in the local press.
Al Suhaimi said the commission should concentrate on fixing its own problems, and be amenable to constructive criticism, rather than embarking on fresh judicial wrangling. “I understand the message as an attempt to cover up their wrong practices.”