Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- There is relentless competition among Saudi youth on online blogs, each vying to post their views or make bold comments on the latest critical political, social and economic news stories.
Despite the fact that blogging remains relatively new to the kingdom, the number of weblogs based out of Saudi Arabia is estimated to be over 1,000, launched by both men and women, according to members of The Official Community for Saudi Bloggers (OCSAB).
Recently the OCSAB held a series of meetings with bloggers in various regions of Saudi Arabia, urging them to continue their efforts; particularly in the social, cultural, economic and scientific domains.
Mohammed Bin Fahd, deputy director-general of OCSAB, told Asharq Al-Awsat that his association regards blogging as an informative tool for “social, intellectual and cultural development.”
He also pointed out that the meetings that were held, which bought together members and non-members of the OCSAB, tackled numerous subjects related to blogging, in addition to the latest trends in e-publishing and the possibility of publishing a periodical on Saudi blogging.
Basem al Sallum, one of the kingdom’s pioneering bloggers told Asharq Al-Awsat that Saudis, who are currently closely following up on blogs with increased interest, had only become aware of their existence in 2003. However; it wasn’t until a year later, in 2004, that the blogging culture started to manifest following the adoption of the official Arabic name ‘mudawin’ (blogger).
Al Sallum, who runs a blog called ‘Herbaz’, highlighted the fact that the kingdom’s journalists and local media figures were instrumental in helping the blogging phenomenon gain momentum.
“At present, you will find many journalists with their own blogs where they publish their news articles and editorials,” he said.
Al Sallum expects blogging to become the eyes and ears of Saudi society. Moreover, he believes that it will become a valuable source of information, in addition to providing a large platform that will nurture literary, scientific, and cultural creative works.
Regarding whether or not the Kingdom’s Communication and Information Technology Commission (CITC) monitors these Saudi-based blogs, Dr. Suliman Merdad, deputy governor of the CITC answered in negation to the question posed by Asharq Al-Awsat.
He stated that the commission does not do that, pointing out that its primary task is to manage the telecommunications and information technology sector with the goal of providing the most reliable and advanced services throughout Saudi Arabia.
Merdad stressed that, “Blogs are ultimately websites on the Internet, therefore there are no specific regulations related to them.” However, he also stated that restrictions for bloggers are the same as the regulations that Saudi Arabia conforms to.
Blogs are a modern global trend for electronic publishing on the Internet, he said, which has provided the public with means to publish their articles and news, as well as having created an interactive environment for readers to present their comments and opinions.
“This represents a clear shift towards interactive content that depends on individuals and users rather than publishing houses and institutions. One of the positive aspects of blogs is the specialized communities it has brought together, and the new content it has generated. Contrastingly, blogs may lack a certain credibility, and some of the readers may become addicted to them, which depending on the blog could be a waste of time,” Merdad noted.
In terms of the absence of regulations on blogs in Saudi Arabia, the deputy governor asserted that this should further encourage the trend rather than curb it, which would be the case if it were to abide by the same Saudi publishing regulations.
Regarding the blocking of weblogs, , “Blogs are subject to the same treatment as websites; they are blocked when they contain objectionable material such as pornography in particular, and other things in general, and things that go against the established principles of our religion and national regulations.”