Dr Abdulaziz Khoja, the Saudi Minister of Culture and Information, acted for the benefit of everyone in Saudi Arabia, when he launched a new set of regulations for digital publishing in the country for this year. However Dr Khoja has received criticism from around the world, under the pretext that his regulations are an attempt to suppress freedom of expression, and this is something that is completely untrue!
What the Minister did was right, for who said that freedom comes without responsibility? Don’t they say that the field of publishing is a door wide open [for misuse]? Whoever wants to write, be published, and criticize others, must do so with credibility, and a firm stance, rather than hiding behind a computer screen in order to defame someone, spread ugly rumors, or promote social division under a false name and then they have the audacity to say: let me exercise my freedom! In reality, your freedom ends when you infringe upon the freedom of others.
There are misconceptions in our Arab world about freedom, information rights, and understanding the internet. Even our native journalists hold such misconceptions. It is not true that someone has the right to do whatever he wants. When something is published, it is subject to copyright legislation. This is why, in the West, intellectual property and publishing laws are studied at university.
In the West, you are able to take legal action against any incorrect news or information published about you, even if it was circulated via an e-mail group on the internet. Thus, in the West you do not find a random sprawl of websites calling themselves newspapers, whereas such online ‘slums’ have become a feature of our region.
The cost of launching a news website in the West is equivalent to the cost of launching any media outlet: there are budgets, an editorial team, scrutiny and careful examination; there is also a strict system regarding intellectual property rights which is no less strict than anti-drug laws, for example. A website in the West cannot hijack and publish images or articles from newspapers or media institutions, without paying for the right to do so, and without acquiring the intellectual property rights [of these articles and pictures]. On the other hand, in Saudi Arabia, the bulk of what is published has been stolen from newspapers, and this is something that is destroying our existing media institutions. The real issue here is not only the shrinking income of these institutions, but the fact that the destruction of such media outlets results in employees losing their jobs ad livelihoods.
Therefore we say: Thanks to the Minister of Information, because this game has now been exposed, and anybody who wants to challenge the media is welcome to do so, so long as they do this under their real name, address, and place of business. We will not accept anybody who simply wants to settle scores or broadcast rumors.
Restructuring media practices on the internet will preserve the reputation of journalism and the journalists, because credibility is at stake here. Most internet sites have abused the media and the journalists far more than they have advanced their own freedom. In fact they have consecrated the idea that journalists are merely concerned with gossip and rumors. To all those who say the Minister of Information’s regulations are an attempt to suppress freedom, we say: Freedom has a price, and anyone who wants to pay this price must do so in broad daylight. This means that in all democracies and open societies, journalism must be responsible and credible, and not mere fonts of gossip. The founder of WikiLeaks, for example, chose Sweden as the base for his website because of its favorable publishing laws, however despite this we know his name, his location, and what he looks like…and today we see him facing off with a superpower, namely the USA. Therefore anybody who wants to be a hero must pay the price, and not hide behind a computer screen.