Sounds like a skit from a Sasha Baron Cohen movie – but in Saudi Arabia this week, an awards function was held honoring journalists and media companies. A country where the government controls the media, and all Saudi newspapers and magazines are controlled and censored honors them.
One of the most repressive towards journalists in the world hosted a forum “Under the sponsorship of the Saudi Minister of Culture and Information.”And they must not insult The Royal family, Wahabi government officials or government version of Islamic morality.
Yet, awards ceremonies were hosted with the “aim of giving incentives for media professionals to improve their work.” Of course, while many were honored there were no awards given to anyone in the public relations agency business, as they were deemed not up to standard.
Among the top winners were journalists from Asharq newspaper is an Arabic international newspaper. The paper was founded with the approval of the Saudi royal family and government ministers, and is owned by a member of the family. Much like other media outlets, Asharq often bans writers who are against the kingdom – including anything with uncovered arms or legs, or items deemed to be promoting immorality, such as or homosexuality.
Muhammad Maroof Shibani was one of six members of a committee judging an award – and this week he made headlines in the Arab world for his article entitled “Israel ….Yes, Iran…a Thousand Times No” in discussing American allegations that Iran may be implicit in a plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to Washington. As he said to America, “Undermining Iran is the same as Undermining Saudi Arabia and vice versa,”and the “common enemies” of Iran and Saudi Arabia are united.
With all the money the Saudis have they spend it extensively on media and Public Relations – and now, the government is further rewarding those who they like. As a judge said “This is the first time in Saudi Arabia that awards have been given to the best programs, articles or news items in the media in the Kingdom.” Simultaneously, Iman Al-Qahtani, a prominent Saudi journalist was pressured to close her Twitter account which had more than 73,000 followers and was active against the government on women’s rights and freedom of expression issues.
Needless to say, no women’s magazines were honored – as they have all been barred. Freedom in the Arab media means writing what THEY say – not what you want.