Saudi Arabia Government and Media
Government Type: Absolute Monarchy (see Basic Law, The Saudi Constitution)
Head of the State and Government: Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud is the King of Saudi Arabia and Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and he serves as head of state and head of government. The King acts as prime minister as well. However, his son Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is reportedly the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia.
Political Party: Political parties are forbidden
World Press Freedom Rank: Saudi Arabia 170/180
The basic law (similar to the constitution) Article 1 clearly states “the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad are the Kingdom’s constitution” and according to Article 26 “The State shall protect human rights in accordance with the Sharia (Islamic law).” Dr. Majid bin Abdullah Al Qasabi serves as the Minister of Media. Criticism of the royal family or religious authorities is criminalized in Saudi Arabia, therefore the royal family has significant powers to censor and self-censorship is prevalent in Saudi Arabia. For instance, in 2012, Saudi writer/blogger and activist Raif Badawi sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for blogging about free speech and insulting Islam. Badawi was running a website that discussed religion. In 2020, Saudi Arabia abolished flogging as punishment. However, as of April 2020, Badawi is still serving his jail term. In 2018, journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post was murdered in Istanbul inside the Saudi Consulate. Reporters Without Borders says “The authorities keep Saudi journalists under close surveillance, even when they are abroad, as Jamal Khashoggi’s murder in Istanbul in October 2018 illustrated.” They also state “Despite his talk of reform, Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) has intensified the repression since his appointment as crown prince in June 2017.”
Government Influence on Media: Media Outlets in Saudi Arabia are in general privately owned by prominent royal families and businesses such as the Rotana Media Group owned by Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. The Middle East Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) is owned by Sheikh Walid al-Ibrahim who is the brother in law of the late king Fahd. Arab Radio Television (ART) of the Dallah Al-Baraka group was owned by sheik Saleh Abdullah Kamel and his family. In 2017, Kamel, Al-Waleed, and al-Ibrahim were arrested in a “corruption crackdown” ordered by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. In May 2020, Kamel passed away. Similarly, in 2018, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman acquired 60% of founder Waleed al-Ibrahim’s shares of the Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC). See the article written by Jamal Khashoggi criticizing Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman: “Saudi Arabia’s crown prince already controlled the nation’s media. Now he’s squeezing it even further.” Saudi Arabia also has investments in foreign media, with Open Secrets reporting “Saudi interests have spent roughly $60 million on foreign influence and lobbying operations in the U.S. since President Donald Trump took office.” Saudi Arabia also campaigned to boost its image by working with PR firms in the UK. PRWeek reports “Saudi Arabia is turning to influencers to shed a positive light on the kingdom as it slowly opens up to tourism. The tactic is part of a broader PR offensive to improve perceptions in line with Mohammad bin Salman’s 2030 Vision.”
The Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ) summarizes the Saudi Government’s influence on Media by stating “The House of Saud controls the flow of information like the flow of oil upon which it is built.”