SAUDI ARABIA: Closure of television station marks another censorship debate

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Nearly a month after Mazen Abdul Jawad was arrested for discussing his sexual exploits on a Lebanese television station, Saudi officials closed two offices of the Lebanese Broadcasting Corportation (LBC), according to the Saudi Gazette, an English-Language daily based in the Kingdom.

On Saturday, the Ministry of Culture and Information closed the LBC’s office in Abdul Jawad’s hometown of Jeddah.

On Monday, the Ministry closed the Riyadh office.

Saudi courts have drawn up charges against Abdul Jawad and three other men who appeared in the segment. They could be charged with publicizing vice and promoting sinful behavior, which can carry both prison time and public flogging.


Reuters reports that the charges could even carry the death penalty.

While the Jeddah office was officially closed for operating without a license on orders from Deputy Prime Pinister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, the Abu Dhabi-based daily the National reports that Ministry of Culture and Information spokesman Abdul Aziz al-Hazzaa said the closure ‘was because of the interview with Mazen Abdul Jawad.”

Abdul Jawad has apologized for his appearance on the program but is still suing LBC, maintaining that he is the victim of selective editing and false promises from producers to hide his identity.

The controversy has set off a debate in the kingdom concerning taboo subjects and censorship, even reaching the pulpit of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, where Sheik Saleh Talib equated Abdul Jawad’s actions to treason.

‘Another form of treason against one’s own country,’ Talib told worshipers at Friday prayers this month, ‘is some of our people whose eyes are dazzled and their hearts captured by their enemy’s culture, speaking against and behaving contrary to our cultural values.’

Saudi Authorities regularly enforce strict anti-vice laws, but public outcry is contributing to the media frenzy.

Saud Kateb, a professor at King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, said, ‘I’m against closing any media outlet as we call for more media freedom in the kingdom, but the government had to do something in response to the public outrage.”

After the program aired, more than 200 complaints were filed, and several websites are calling for a boycott of the popular television station.

Prominent Saudi journalist Turki al-Dakheel called the closure unnecessary given the public outcry. ‘The anger shown by many citizens was deterrent enough to TV channels not to make similar mistakes.’ al-Dakheel wrote in the saudi paper al-Watan, ‘There is no deterrent strong enough as the one imposed by the public.’

The closure of the LBC offices mark the second time this year that Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s media Empire has been embroiled in the media control debate in Saudi Arabia. Prince Alwaleed, who owns an 85% stake in LBC, was accused by his brother of using media outlets to propagate vice this past June.

-- Jahd Khalil in Beirut.