Information minister Iyad Madani announced a nationwide ban on
all live broadcasts on Saudi public TV channels on 30 January, two days
after angry viewers made unflattering comments about senior officials,
including King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, during a phone-in
programme on the news channel Al-Ikhbariya. The station’s director,
Mohammed Al-Tunsi, was fired.
“This measure aims to prevent the public from hearing their
grievances expressed on the air,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“While press freedom is far from being a reality in Saudi Arabia, the
emergence of live chat shows was a big advance. We urge the authorities
to reverse this decision and to reinstate Al-Ikhbariya’s director.”
the 28 January show on Al-Ikhbariya, viewers who called in expressed
anger about the government’s failure to sufficiently increase the
salaries of state employees. According to the website Elaph, the
information minister decided two days later to replace Tunsi by one of
his own aides from within the ministry. The government is reportedly
also poised to imposed prior censorship on all TV broadcasts.
Al-Ikhbariya’s coverage of the social and economic problems that Saudis face has been very popular.
Arabia was ranked 148th out of 169 countries in the world press freedom
index issued by Reporters Without Borders in October.