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    Saturday, September 25, 2010

    Permission to Blog, mein Führer?

    If you were around Twitter early Friday morning, you probably noticed a Saudi hashtag trend titled #Haza3.. It's basically what many Saudis chose as a form of protest to statements made by the official Spokesman of the Ministry of Culture and Media, Abdulrahman al Hazza..

    According to NotepadMedia (use GoogleTranslate)
    خاص بالمفكرة الإعلامية: أعلن المتحدث الرسمي لوزارة الثقافة و الإعلام السعودي الأستاذ عبد الرحمن الهزاع بأنها صدرت الموافقة على إضافة نظام النشر الالكتروني إلى نظام المطبوعات والنشر المعمول به في السعودية، و بذلك أصبح للوزارة أرضية نظامية و القانونية للنظر في أى قضية تعرض عليها مما ينشر في الصحف الإلكترونية أو المنتديات، و بذلك أضيف الإعلام الإلكتروني كأحد المجالات التي تعمل الوزارة على الترخيص لها و مراقبتها.

    و أشار في حدثه لبرنامج "في المرمي" الذي بث مساء أمس على قناة العربية إلى أن الوزارة تقوم حاليا على تجهيز اللائحة التنفيذية للنظام بالتنسيق في ذلك مع الجهات الرسمية المعنية بالأمر، حيث أن من المتوقع أن يتم البدء بالعمل بهذه اللائحة متى ما أعتمدت من معالي وزير الإعلام، في حين سيكون من ضمن جزياتها كيفية الترخيص لأي صحيفة إلكترونية في أي تخصص، و ما هي الشروط التي يجب توفرها في من يقف وراء تلك الصحفية الألكترونية.
     As TechCrunch noted, once approved, I might have to apply for a Blogging License (reading and commenting licenses are optional).. That might be a bit "blowing it out of proportion", but it does give a dark premise of the future.. Here's why..

    There's nothing much to say about this, more than an interesting insight to how our government (and it's respected officials) view the new online media.. Of course, the cause this is being carried under is simple and "patriotic", as stated by Mr.Al-Hazza..
    و أكد الهزاع إلى أن الوزارة تعمل على أن تكون هذه الأنظمة الجديدة وسيلة للتواصل و تقديم الخدمات الإعلامية بعيدا عن التهجم و الشتم و القذف، و أن عملها هذا ليس المقصود منه الحد من حرية التعبير التي توفرها هذه المواقع الصحف الالكترونية.
    In case you don't speak the language, the cause is to allow -registered- digital media to be published officially, while limiting any critical, insulting and/or defamatory opinions to be publicly stated.. It continues to mention that this is not meant to limit the freedom of speech, but it wants to keep a close eye on those wanting to abuse that freedom..

    Personally, here's where i agree, and disagree, with the statement made by Al Hazza:

    • On a certain level, there's nothing wrong in the government trying to keep "it" official (aka under control).. Giving the new form of media in Saudi Arabia (digital, to be exact) this amount of attention shows that our government understands (to some level) what this media has to offer: In terms of public opinions, or in terms of it's spread around the web.. So, what's wrong with keeping track of those who blog as well? Well, here's where things might get interesting..
    • The definition of what's defamatory or critical of Saudi Arabia has always been too ambiguous to be specifically known to the public, and has been under a very critical watch due to what the government took as actions towards any sort of criticism.. Notably, the case of Fouad Al Farhan's arrest, and the indirect statement that made toward what the government thinks of online media in general (nothing was specific).. Consequently, this caused some intimidation towards knowing what you can/can't blog about, especially when your stating your full name.. So, what stops corruption from abusing that power they acquired by knowing exactly who you are? That kind of Strips the joy of anonymity for most, doesn't it?
    Given that Hazza didn't clearly state anything about blogging per se, but more about digital media, this can be taken as targeting online publications that act as news papers of somesort, but only propagate false tabloid noise (which we have many of them and not necessarily individuals who blog).. The backlash from Al-Hazza statement was a clear "Statement" of what Saudis think of online media's potential, especially the Saudi Blogosphere, and what they think the future stance of the government would be.. In clear, Saudis like the new media's current state and want it to remain that way..

    I mean, if the digital media restriction actually passes through, it's almost a door-to-door neighbor to simple blogs.. I mean, blogs are an important news source, a new form of journalism, especially in Saudi, so what's stopping it from being entitled with the same treatment?

    Stand in line, fill an application and get on the grid.. It's all for your safety (and theirs aswell).. Why do i keep remembering Orwell's 1984?

    Moreover, it didn't take 24 hours for the reactions to be noticed, leading to an interesting result..
    Ministry of information domestic media supervisor Abdulrahman al-Hazzaa clarified that the new law will require on-line news sites to be licensed, but would only encourage bloggers and others to register.
    "We are not putting it in our mind to license them. There are so many we cannot control them," he said of the thousands of Saudi bloggers and online forum operators. -AFP via Yahoo News
    So, as it turns out, Al Hazza is actually aiming for News "entities" while encouraging individuals to register as well.. Given the pleasant history and appeal the government has with its people, how many do you think will actually step up to do so?

    The article continues to mention..
    Hazzaa told AFP that new regulations being finalised are mainly to give his department supervisory authority over electronic media, as it has over traditional print and broadcast media and publishing in Saudi Arabia.
    He said there are more than 100 news websites, and that licensing them would permit their reporters to take part in regular media activities alongside traditional media.
    This is basically why i stated my first point, and further more, where this step is actually a good step towards improving (using the term loosely) the online media's status in the kingdom.. Yet, like i said, the overall appeal and history is not serving this point right..

    Finally, i'd like to point out a single missing piece of the puzzle that needs to exist if this controversy would cease to annoy both sides (to a certain extent).. A clear official definition of what's right and what's wrong, to clear the intimidation-because-of-confusion, so online writers know what their rights and their obligations as Saudis who live under the flag.. Saudi Arabia preaches for freedom of speech, with limitations to hate speech (justifiable) so it's about time they put that "pure" intent into practice.. And I seriously suggest that the government embraces what the online media (and it's optional anonymity) has to offer, without this fear and over-cautiousness, and accept to face the fact that it's there, and it's growing quite a following.. So don't stand against the train, hop on it.. You're more than welcome to do so :)..
    But Hazzaa said it is futile for his office to try to supervise the content of blogs and social media like Facebook pages.
    "The day I shut a site, tomorrow they will open it by a new name," he said.
    I think the message is already heard.. :)


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