Without Regulations, Life Itself Would be Impossible

I would hardly call Arab media untrammeled and free. But satellite television is quite the phenom in the Arab Middle East, with a host of interesting channels — Al-Jazeera (of course), Al-Arabiya, Iqraa’, and LBC — taking advtantage of a relatively unregulated market by pumping interesting programming into homes and businesses across the region. Even though they were technically illegal when I was there, nearly everyone, and a number of public places, had satellite teevee in Saudi Arabia. There were even a number of channels and programs specifically designed for Saudi audiences (Rotana TV’s Saudi and Arab pop music video call-in shows, for example), and newspapers all published programming schedules.

Nice way to flout the law.

However, that era may soon come to an end. It seems that Arab lawmakers, meeting in Riyadh, are concerned about “the lack of regulation” dealing with satellite teevee and radio broadcasts. We can also assume satellite internet — also fairly widely available in Saudi Arabia — is covered under that deal.

The Ministry of Culture and Information has presented an outline for model legislation governing the transmission and reception of satellite television and radio broadcasts, as well as other electronic media, across the Arab world.

According to Abdullah Al-Jasser, an undersecretary with the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information, the working paper, presented to a team of Arab legislators currently meeting in Riyadh, the proposal will solve the problem caused by the lack of regulations covering satellite broadcasting.

Yeah, can’t have life without government regulations.

The goal of this is not to make sure young Saudi men sitting in cafes and puffing on shishas can’t watch music videos of comely and nubile pop starlets (both Western and Arab), because aside from a few prudes and the Church Police, no ne really cares about this.

What they care about is the political content of the programming. Al-Jazeera has poked a few Arab leader eyes in its day, and that has kept it reasonably well-liked in countries where the news is usually some guy in a suit (ar-rais, otherwise known as el presidente) shaking hands with some junior head of state or minister from an African or Asian country most folks have never heard of or cutting the ribbon on some distant project. Snooze. The legislators don’t want anything that would upset the stability of their societies, the legitimacy of their governments, or present a negative view of those things to the world. (Oh, heaven help us…)

Al-Jasser said the qualitative development in the media and information technology has been met by a legislative vacuum, and that regulations are needed to ensure the production of programs “projecting the Arab entity and serving Arab culture” as well as its role in “enriching human civilization.”

Karen Hughes, I think some folks were listening to you, too.