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Elaph: “Saudi writer challenges censorship?”

Mideast Wire

Elaph, an independent Saudi owned news website, wrote on February 26: “In Saudi Arabia, when a column written by any writer or journalist is blocked by the editor in chief, then the options facing that writer are very limited: either he dumps the column in the garbage can and starts writing another one, or he enters into a useless argument with the editor in chief to alleviate his concerns and convince him to publish the column, though these arguments often fail.

But the Saudi writer Abdullah Bakhit discovered yesterday a new method: to challenge the editor in chief of the Saudi Al-Jazeera newspaper, as he wrote in his column yesterday that the published article is the same as the one blocked by the editor in chief a while ago but that he rewrote it. The writer called on his readers who want to compare the two articles to send him an email or letter and that is what happened, as dozens of readers contacted him hoping to play the role of referee between him and the editor in chief.

“The writer Abdullah Bin Bakhit announced to Elaph: “in this column, I was hoping to achieve three goals and this is what happened. I sent a message to the censorship and censors that states in general that they can be bypassed easily through decreasing the psychological impact of the article so that it can pass unobstructed. The second goal: I delivered the information that I wanted to spread. The third: that I succeeded in creating a new method to communicate with the readers."

Censorship in Saudi Arabia is a very confusing and ambiguous subject as the writers never know whether their columns are being censored based on the mood of the editor in chief or the instructions of the media ministry or for other reasons. The editors in chief of Saudi newspapers often leave this issue ambiguous and confusing for the writers so that they can control what is published without being queried by the writers about the reasons for censoring their columns.

“If a writer asks, the answer usually is: “This column is not permitted. Write another one. There are things that you don’t know.” This answer is convincing for most writers who don’t know the standards or benchmark or reference for this decision. The writer Abdullah Bin Bakhit wanted to address, through his article, the issue of the conflicting and “ever changing” standards as he described them.

"He adds: “the standards for censoring Saudi journalism often depend on the psychological state of the censors and nothing else. If the censor receives an angry phone call reprimanding him about one issue or another before he is about to look at a column, then he will block it, but if a long time passes without anyone reprimanding him then the ceiling of what is permitted and of freedom will rise automatically and he will approve the same column that he blocked a while ago.”

“Bakhit believes that the old censorship standards still control the minds of those responsible for censorship in the Saudi journalistic field despite the massive changes through which Saudi Arabia and the world have gone through. He announced: “I will give you an example, my latest column was banned because I was talking about the dollar [the issue of depegging the Saudi currency, the Riyal, from the dollar].

"The censor understood the column as an attack on the United States. He believed that my column could cause problems as this is due to the old standards, according to which Saudi journalists and writers were not allowed to attack or criticize other countries. But the new standards do not ban criticizing other countries and this seems natural and normal. Even when you criticize the Syrian policies today, some will block the column because they fear that this could cause trouble, which is because of the old standards”…” - Elaph, United Kingdom

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