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UK Arabic paper says media freedom in Saudi Arabia

BBC Monitoring

Text of report by London-based newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi website on 13 July

    [Article by Ahmad al-Misri, datelined London: "A female broadcaster accuses the Saudi Information Ministry of administrative corruption. A journalist expelled for writing about the squandering of public funds. The freedom of the press in Saudi Arabia has gone back to square one and retrogressed."]

    Despite the achievement of a greater measure of freedom of the press and the media in Saudi Arabia in recent years, yet some writers and media people who advocate reform have been arrested, arbitrarily fired from their jobs, prevented from travelling, or censored. Some of them have been harassed by persons belonging to the hard-line Islamist trend in the kingdom or its supporters.

    The Saudi writer, Ali Sa'd al-Musa, said cultural activity in Saudi Arabia is based on the exploitation of intellectuals at times of crisis, and after the crises subside censorship is restored in a more stringent form, and that is why the period during which terrorism intensified was a golden period for the freedom of the media in Saudi Arabia. He asserted that in 2007 the freedom of the media has retrogressed to square one, after achieving progress in the past years.

    In a recent interview with the US television channel Al-Hurrah, Al-Musa said there are many discussions in Saudi Arabia about numerous issues, but such discussions do not have results. He said senior officials in both the Sunni and Shi'i trends in Saudi Arabia still feel embarrassed to attend public meetings, while they meet secretly. There is strong regionalism in the country and some of the kingdom's regions are wronged because there is no balanced sustainable development. He said dialogue is important, but dialogue with armed groups is merely a social tranquilizer unless stands are reviewed from the inside. He said the threat of terrorism still exists in the kingdom for there is an incubating environment.

    Buthaynah al-Nasr, the Saudi newscaster, criticized the negative aspects and the corruption of the administrative conditions in the Saudi information ministry. She asked the information minister to rectify those conditions, a process which she said does not require more than three months. She said there is some slackness as well as problems in the ministry, and those problems are not discussed by most of the male officials.

    Al-Nasr, speaking on a woman's programme on the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC) on 11 July 2007, said there is no professional administrative organizational structure in a professional institutional system. She said there is no job description for any male or female employees, and thus we do not know our rights and duties. She added that the lack of a professional administrative work system causes overtime hours worked to be lost and are not calculated for the employee during his years of work. She said only some persons are included in the organizational chart but not others, whereas all employees should be included in the organizational structure since the ministry of information is subject to the Civil Service system.

    She said the real problem is not that there is no professional organizational or administrative structure similar to what exists in private sector institutions that seek profit, but the problem lies in the presence of influential persons who seek not to have such a system. They do not want the system and professional administrative organization because if it exists it will expose the chaos, nepotism, paralysis, and theft of public funds. She said what is required is to sift through what exists at present and draw up an emergency strategy that has goals, instruments, and mechanisms through which the situation can be remedied within not more than three months, because it does not require a year or two years or huge budgets.

    Dismissal of the Saudi journalist Tariq al-Ghamidi because he wrote about a case of squandering public funds.

    The journalist Tariq al-Ghamidi said he was expelled from the Saudi newspaper Al-Jazeera two hours after he published a story about the railway in the form of question-and-answer interview with the minister of transport.

    In a television interview, Al-Ghamidi said the problem began when a colleague in the Saudi newspaper Al-Watan wrote about the squandering of public funds in a railway project in northern Saudi Arabia. He was accused and blamed on the premise that he used to hold the post of director of the media and public relations department in the Railway Authority and that he was responsible for the leaking of information about the squandering of funds to the press.

    Al-Ghamidi said he was taken aback like others when a colleague asked the minister in charge about the matter, and did not publish the material on the story in the Al-Jazeera newspaper where he works until five days after it was published in other newspapers, and yet his employment was terminated after the transport minister contacted the person in charge of the media department as well as the paper's editor-in-chief two hours after the story was published.

    Al-Ghamidi said he tried to clarify his stand but was unable to do so because it was in the interest of the newspaper - which was under pressure from the minister - to get rid of him. He asked for his civil rights and for investigating the case of the squandering of public funds, especially as there were official documents confirming that.

    Saudis in the media launched a campaign in support of Al-Ghamidi. They addressed a letter to the Saudi minister of culture and information, Iyad Amin Madani, in which they stressed the need to work with the media people and to respond to their inquiries with great transparency and credibility in line with the directives given by King Abdallah on more than one occasion.

    The campaign stressed that stopping Al-Ghamidi from practicing his journalistic work is a setback for the Saudi media and a very big step backward by the ministry of culture and information.

    Source: Al-Quds al-Arabi website, London, in Arabic 13 Jul 07



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