Saudi Arabia Media Sustainability Index (MSI)
About the MSI
IREX designed the MSI to measure the strength and viability of any country’s media sector. The MSI considers all the factors that contribute to a media system—the quality of journalism, effectiveness of management, the legal environment supporting freedom of the press, and more—to arrive at scores on a scale ranging between 0 and 4. These scores represent the strength of the media sector components and can be analyzed over time to chart progress (or regression) within a country. Additionally, countries or regions may be compared to one another. IREX currently conducts the MSI in 80 countries, and produced the first Middle East and North Africa MSI in 2005.
MSI Saudi Arabia - 2009 Introduction
Overall Country Score: 1.50
The media scene for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia did not change dramatically in 2009. The expected launch of two television networks had promised to be a major media development. One of the two, the much-anticipated Prince Alwaleed bin Talal pan-Arab news network, drew talk that a new Saudi media star (experienced, well-known journalist Gamal Khashghi) might reshape the local media and journalism community as director of the network. Alef, the other television network announced in 2009, is funded by Prince Khaled Alfesal and considered a more culturally and socially driven network. However, as of the time of the MSI study, the new networks had not materialized.
The sense of disappointment expressed in the 2008 MSI study sank in deeper, as hopes continued to fade that King Abdallah bin Abdel-Aziz would improve the level of personal and media freedom. Saudi media lived what can be called a "short spring" in 2008, with journalists and writers crossing "red lines" by discusisng topics considered unspeakable—such as religious reform and the constitutional monarchy. But toward the end of the year, the authorities began to move to shut down such efforts to expand press freedom. At that time, the Saudi authorities took into custordy a blogger, Mohamed Alotabi, and a writer, Khaled Alomair, without a trial. The authorities continued this approach in 2009 with more arrests. In its 2009 human rights report, the U.S. Department of State wrote, "Hadi al Mutif, a Shia imprisoned since 1994 for apostasy, received a further give-year sentence for statements on a smuggled video tape criticizing the judicial system and the government's human rights record. He reportedly remained incarcertated in solitary confinement at year's end."1
While this report was being finalized, unprecedented changes began sweeping the Arab world. For the first time in their history, the Arab people brought fundamental, reovlutionary changes in Tunisia and Egypt, and the wave of revolution is sweeping three of Saudi Arabi's neighbors: Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria. The Saudi government is on alert and watching for any sign of domestic movement, putting media workers—as well as dmeocracy and human rights activists—on edge. Given these circumstances, and in order to protect their personal security, all panelists in this year's study participated only on condition of anonymity.
Panelists in Saudi Arabia agreed ot participate only if their names were not disclosed publicly. They cited increased sensitivity of the government to criticism and the possibility of arrest and/or other legal proceedings against those who are outspoken.
1"2010 Human Rights Report: Saudi Arabia." U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor: April 8, 2011. Available at: http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2010/nea/154472.htm