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Saturday 20 December  
Saudi Arabia lifts RNW internet blockade
Hilversum, Netherlands
Hilversum, Netherlands

Saudi censorship seen as a compliment to RNW

Published on : 16 August 2011 - 3:56pm | By Gerhard Verduijn (Graphic: RNW)
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Saudi web surfers can once again access Radio Netherlands Worldwide websites. Media expert Jan Keulen thinks it remarkable that the authorities in Saudi Arabia lifted the block so soon. In his view, the Saudi kingdom is one of the world's greatest enemies of internet freedom.  

The Saudi boycott came as no surprise to Mr Keulen, the Dutch director of the Doha Centre for Media Freedom. “It was only a matter of time,” he reflects.

“Radio Netherlands Worldwide is an important source of information in the Arab World, and certainly in Saudi Arabia. If you publish something that doesn’t go down well – or to use the official jargon, that violates the moral values of the kingdom – then you’ll be blocked.”

Highly unusual
The government in Riyadh takes Radio Netherlands Worldwide seriously, is Mr Keulen's conclusion. “Let’s just say it wouldn’t be a compliment to RNW if the censor ignored you.”

Access to the RNW website was restored on Monday. This time, Mr Keulen was surprised. “It’s most remarkable. Maybe the government in Riyadh has had second thoughts about being able to justify the boycott. Or perhaps there was diplomatic pressure behind the scenes. I can only speculate, but nevertheless, it’s a highly unusual development.”

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RNW is certainly not the only broadcaster to go too far in the eyes of Riyadh. Al-Jazeera’s website is among many others to fall foul of Saudi sensibilities. NGOs put the total number of websites blocked by the Saudi government at around 400,000.

The vast majority of these sites contain pornographic material, but there are also tens of thousands of web pages which are inaccessible because they carry politically sensitive content. The range of offending topics is vast: it could be anything from women’s rights, the rights of foreign workers, the military situation or the position of the royal House of Saud.

Bizarre system
The initiative to block a website usually comes from the authorities but, as Mr Keulen notes, private individuals can also have their say.

“Any citizen can submit a request to have a site blocked if he or she finds it objectionable. It’s a bizarre system which, if viewed cynically, could be regarded as giving a vague hint of democracy to what is a highly unsavoury practice.”

He believes the authorities themselves were behind the blocking of Radio Netherlands Worldwide. The direct trigger for the censorship would appear to have been video footage showing the mistreatment of a migrant worker. Mr Keulen reckons it’s a subject that is controversial enough to prompt government intervention from Riyadh. 

“The situation of foreign workers and abuse of domestic staff is a very sensitive issue, one that is also kept out of the regular media channels in Saudi Arabia. It’s a topic that is not open to discussion, a Saudi taboo. It therefore wouldn’t surprise me if it’s the government itself, or circles close to the government, who do not want to see such articles published.”




David Berridge 17 August 2011 - 4:54pm / Canada

Then why doesn't Geert say this? Is it that he has enough supprt from England with his International Network that he will not say anything of the sort? Money takks Hiram, and the Saudis don't give Geert a penny so he feels free to critcize them while he protects a Dutch instition he helped more than water down. Again, ask Geert.

Hiram1 17 August 2011 - 5:27pm

David, I would ask Geert but he is not taking any calls from me. When he does call, I will ask him if we can have a three-way, conference call. David, the British are masters at the art of tyranny.

Hiram1 17 August 2011 - 6:12am

"Okay then, let's see what Geert has to say about the British." He should say to the Britsh: "I am an European citizen and you banned me (an European citizen) from enter and travelling freely because you don't like my speech. As to the Saudis, they never claim to be a free and open society as the British. The British society claims to be a democracy and they restricted Wilders from entering into the British Isles. They didn't like his message and they just like the Saudis stopped free speech. The British people are not a free people. They are constantly being oppressed by their government. The British government is tyranny at it's best. It has proven itself throughout it's history as tyrants. The Saudis are saints in comparisoning to the British. They have abused the Irish, Americans, and more especially the indians of India. They split the Middle East into numerous countries in order to divide and conquer. They are the cause of the problems in the Middle East, today. They are the cause of the mass immigration into Europe and the U.K. The riots in the UK are the results of their tyranny. RNW should write an article on the censorship committed by the British but they will not.

David Berridge 17 August 2011 - 12:23am / Canada

Okay then, let's see what Geert has to say about the British. Why does Saudi Arabis still need defending when they backpeddled on their move? Does a country have to be number one in order to be guilty of this? Why not just be one of the group of offenders? The British strategy is not yet a done deal, owing to technical considerations and the debate coming on freedom by the innocent to use the technology. The Saudis didn't have any such debates and probably found that closing the technology completely caused more problems than it solved. The Saudi use of an autocratic regime didn't help things much either.

Hiram1 16 August 2011 - 4:48pm

"If you publish something that doesn’t go down well – or to use the official jargon, that violates the moral values of the Kingdom – then you’ll be blocked."....Maybe, RNW should investigate the British Kingdom or use official jargon that violates the kingdom's "moral" values. The British have set-up a value system that violates free speech. The kingdom will arrest you, put you on the dock, and incarcerate you for violating it's laws. The government is now contemplating shutting down twitter and other sources of communications. Why? Because "the Brits are one of those of the world's greatest enemies of internet freedom." Why does RNW champion the rights of internet freedoms in Saudi Arabi but not with the British? The British government is far worse than Saudi Arabi. Saudi Arabi has alowed the service to return. The British government would never do such a thing. If RNW is going to champion internet freedoms and free speech, let it start with the British. Maybe, this is one of the reasons why the West is hated so much. The British government is far more dangerous than Saudi Arabi in the area of civil liberties. You have an abundance of newsworthy events accross the channel but you go to places like Saudi Arabi and you get offended when they shut you down for violating their standards of "Moral" values. If you say Saudi Arabi is one of the world's greatest enemies of internet freedoms, report the other enemies of internet freedoms. Inform your readers of the other tyrants of free speech. Do an article on those greatest enemies of internet freedom and free speech.

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