Thursday, 13 January 2011

Saudi bloggers now free to support government and extol Islamic law

Saudi Arabia has introduced draconian new restrictions on blogging. Henceforth, blogs will be redesignated "electronic newspapers". Anyone running a blog will have to register their details - and that of their web hosts - with the authorities. Only full Saudi citizens aged over twenty, in possession of a high school diploma and approved by the government will be allowed to comment on current affairs at all, and their output will be carefully monitored for any controversial remarks about religion or politics. And it will be compulsory to include on every webpage a message proclaiming to unbelievers the necessity of converting to Islam.

Even posters on online forums and members of chatrooms are being "encouraged" to register their details with the authorities. For their own protection, of course; although as the report on Fast Company points out, the Saudi government "has a long history of jailing bloggers who write about politics, corruption or religion. " Three topics that are so closely entwined in that country that it's usually impossible to tell where one ends and another begins.

That's Saudi Arabia for you. It does demonstrate, though, how the much-vaunted freedom (or anarchy) of online discussion is to a large extent a product of governments' inertia or tolerance when it comes to regulation, rather than their inability to do so. A couple of years ago a report for the European Parliament recommended some type of regulatory regime for blogs. The Estonian socialist who compiled the report was particularly concerned about the "undetermined and unindicated status of authors and publishers" and the need for a "mark of quality" to single out EU approved blogging. The proposals didn't get very far. At least not on that occasion. But some Eurocrats will no doubt be casting envious eyes in the direction of Riyadh.