Friday, January 4, 2008

Saudi daily: "How Free Is the Blogosphere?"

"When we congratulate ourselves on the expanding role of the media in Saudi Arabia, we do this with a sense of the different atmosphere surrounding us; there are still social problems, which we journalists cannot write about and there are still attitudes, which are anything but tolerant. [...]

"The news of the arrest in Jeddah on Dec. 10 of Saudi blogger Fouad Farhan will be seen by many as a setback at a time when international news agencies had begun quoting our newspapers on some of our most important and sensitive issues.

"One would think that the blogosphere should be even more open and free than newspapers.

"And generally it has been: Bloggers in Saudi Arabia have varied their goals and subjects from fun-oriented ones to social networks to comments on current affairs.

"For Saudis it was a breath of fresh air; the blogosphere offered freedom and an unrestricted space for all voices. Some of the bloggers have continued while others, for various reasons, stopped. The blogs dealing with lighter subjects, such as entertainment and fashion, survived while the more daring ones, which comment on current affairs, dance close to the red lines. [...]

"Whether you agree with them is completely up to each person for after all that is the beauty of the blogosphere — live and let live, express and let express.

"This sense of freedom is now at risk. According to some Saudi bloggers, Farhan’s arrest is making them think twice before posting comments that they might get in trouble for. [...]

"The arrest of Farhan, however, seems to many people to be a much more drastic step. According to the authorities, Farhan’s arrest was for 'non-security related issues' which implies that his website might not be the cause of the arrest — and indeed, this is supported by the fact that the site is up and running. [...]

"At a time when the world media is focusing on Saudi affairs — whether we like it or not — a little openness could help our image a great deal. We must learn from the Qatif Girl case.

"Because the authorities refused to talk, others did the talking; all sorts of theories came to the surface and there was no way of challenging or refuting them as there was no clear official information.

"Maybe this time a clear statement as to why Farhan is being detained on a very imprecise charge would go a long way to clearing things up. In this age when news is available to everyone around the clock, it is hard to be convinced by a vague statement."

Source: Arab News (Saudi Arabia), January 3, 2008