RIYADH: A number of Royal Decrees were issued Friday containing amendments to the Press and Publications Law of Nov. 2000, addressing violations in the content of published materials, the authorities tasked with investigating and ruling on offenses, and the penalties they incur.
The first of the five amendments concerns Article 9 of the law, with the text now reading:
“All officials in printed materials will heed to objective and constructive criticism in the public interest based on facts and correct testimonies, and are barred from publishing in any form whatsoever the following:
1 – Anything that violates Islamic Shariah rulings or laws in force.
2 – Anything calling for breaches of the security of the country or its public law, or anything that serves foreign interests in conflict with national interests.
3 - Anything affecting the reputation or dignity of, or slandering or personally insulting, the Grand Mufti of the Kingdom or members of the Board of Senior Ulema, or dignitaries of the state or any of its employees, or any person of ordinary standing or any legal person.
4 – Inciting and propagating division between citizens.
5 – Promoting or inciting to crime.
6 - Anything damaging to the country’s public affairs.
7 – Details of investigations or trials without obtaining permission from the legally authorized authority.”
The second amendment made in the Royal Decrees concerns Article 36, which now reads:
“The Ministry may – according to need – remove any publication without compensation, if it is found to contain anything barred from publication by Article 9 of the law.”
The third amendment concerns Article 37, which has been modified to state that a primary committee will be set up composed of persons with the relevant experience to look into violations of the Press and Publications Law and enforce penalties. The committee will only look into complaints brought to it by persons with direct involvement or interest, or by the minister, and its decisions will be made on unanimity or majority after hearing the statements of violators or representatives of them. The committee is permitted to summon anyone it deems necessary to hear their statements.
The fourth amendment, concerning Article 38, lists the penalties to which violators of the law are subject and which are listed as follows:
1 – A maximum fine of SR500,000 which is doubled should the violation be repeated.
2 – Violators are barred from writing in all newspapers and publications, or participating in media channels, or both.
3 – Temporary or permanent closure or blocking of the source entity where the violation is committed. If the source is a newspaper then closure is brought into effect upon approval from the Prime Minister. If it is an electronic news site, then closure or blocking is under the minister’s jurisdiction.
4 – If the violation involves publishing erroneous information or accusations against those stated in Section 3 of Article 9, then violators are required to publish apologies in the newspaper or news site where the violation was committed at their own expense and in the form designated by the committee.
The fourth amendment concludes by saying that any violations that constitute an “affront to Islam, to the country’s higher interests, or are related to cases that are heard by courts”, are referred by the committee to the minister prior to submission to the King for him to “take measures for the public interest or refer the case to the courts”.
The fifth and final amendment announced Friday concerns Article 40, and states that an appeal committee will be formed under a chairman of judicial experience with legal consultants and media specialists with a minimum 25 years’ experience to hear grievances related to decisions from the primary committee referred to in Article 37. The appeal committee’s decisions will be based on unanimity or majority and are final.
It further states that the minister is to issue rules governing the work of the primary and appeal committees and their jurisdictions. A Royal Decree is to be issued for the formation of the two committees and naming of their chairmen and members, with renewable membership periods of three years.
The fifth amendment further declares that the committee stated in Article 37 of the Prints and Publication Act issued in 2000 is to look into Saudi nationals abroad committing any violations stated in Article 9 and enforce penalties as stated in Article 38. Media cases will, the amendment states, only be looked into by the two committees formed in accordance with the Press and Publications Law.
– SPA/Saudi Gazette