Saudi journalist to Western journalists in Beijing on Internet filtering: “quit your belly aching”

Saudi journalist Molouk Y. Ba-Isa wrote an interesting article in Saudi Arabia’s principal English daily (Arab News) in which she reminds the Western journalists covering the 2008 Olympics in Beijing that censorship for people like her in countries such as Saudi Arabia is a daily reality where they have to live and function, not just a matter of a limited time inconvenient.

The article raises a couple of interesting issues that are rarely discussed in the Saudi local press.

First, in addition to blaming Saudi “faceless bureaucrats” for imposing Internet filtering, she also blames the US corporations for exporting filtering technologies, and the US government for allowing the exportation of these technologies, “to be used to halt freedom of expression through the Internet for hundreds of millions of people.” This is probably the first time the Saudi media accuses the US companies of complicity of human rights violations in Saudi Arabia. Usually the blame is put on the faceless bureaucrats and the security apparatus only.

Second, the journalist not only questions the sensibility of censoring foreign publications and filtering the Internet, but is also critical of the government spending "desperately needed resources" on such efforts and, as she put it, on protecting her morality, instead of allocating these resources to more important issues such as education, infrastructure, and health care. This is interesting because usually the Saudi media does not question the state filtering practices. Previous local reports have expressed concerns over overblocking but rarely are they so openly critical of the entire system.

It remains to be seen whether similar voices will continue to be heard in the Saudi local media, and whether the authorities will listen and respond to these concerns.