Dubai - Saudi Arabia is studying ways to regulate locally-produced YouTube content, including the possibility of requiring government-issued licenses for some users, said an official on Sunday.
Najm, the president of The General Authority for Audiovisual Media,
said his agency is still trying to figure out which type of YouTube
content-producers would be affected and how the government agency would
apply new regulations.
"We do not have a clear way yet implement
to this," Najm told The Associated Press. "It is not clear who will be
asked of this... it is all under study."
YouTube's parent company, Google, said it had no comment on the matter.
kingdom has taken other steps recently to regulate online media,
ordering dozens of internet news outlets to stop operating for not
having the required licenses.
Najm says the aim of studying new
regulations is to find ways to better manage the explosion of YouTube
content coming out of the kingdom and to ensure users respect the
country's conservative Muslim norms. He says his agency, which operates
under the Ministry of Culture and Information, is not seeking to stifle
online creativity or expression.
Mohamed Amine Merah, co-founder
of Vizyon Creative Media in Saudi Arabia, said he was not aware of plans
by the kingdom to regulate YouTube. As with several other YouTube
accounts in Saudi Arabia, Vizyon already has a government-issued license
as a production house.
Several monetised YouTube production
houses such as UTURN, Masameer and Telfaz 11 have million YouTube
subscribers and are wildly popular among young Saudis.
is not to pressure them, but to elevate their quality and make sure the
production is up to standard," Najm said. "At the same time, for them to
be aware of the boundaries of society and to not exceed those
Najm explained that there are "widely accepted" norms
in Saudi society against insulting another person or groups of people.
Public criticism of the king, for example, is strictly prohibited.
than a dozen Saudis in the past weeks have posted video statements on
YouTube sharply criticising the royal family and demanding change. At
least three of those who appeared in videos have since been arrested,
along with seven others connected to the videos, security officials have
told the AP.
More recently a Saudi sports journalist was
sentenced to three months prison and 50 lashes for defaming presidents
of two Saudi soccer clubs on Twitter. He was also banned from Twitter
for three months, according to local Saudi state media reports.
Fatani, a consultant to the UN on internet governance and founder of
SASIconsult, which stands for Saudi Arabian Strategic Internet
consultancy, said the problem with creating regulations on social media
is that often these rules cannot be implemented and adhered to.
He said people end up using virtual private networks (VPN) to get around bans, making "the government look bad".
you are doing is limiting artistic talent and talent creation in the
country and that's the danger," he said. "Let them produce what they
produce, and if society does not like what they see then no one will
In 2004, the Saudi government banned camera-equipped
phones but backed off because cameras had become a feature in most
phones. There were similar efforts to block Bluetooth technology on
Many young Saudis are flocking to YouTube because
content creators in traditional media, such as television and
newspapers, are heavily regulated. Fatani says traditional media is
simply not responding to the younger generation's needs and taste.
says that users in Saudi Arabia are among the most active in the world,
and that Saudi users watch more YouTube content per capita than any
other country. While Google does not release exact figures for Saudi
Arabia, the company says that the average internet user in the kingdom
watched three times as many videos per day in October as their
counterparts in the US.
Google says that people in the Middle East
and North Africa watch 14.5 million hours of YouTube every day, and two
hours of video is uploaded to YouTube per minute from the region.
Al-Maeena, editor at large for the daily Saudi Gazette newspaper,
cautions against too much regulation of media. He says that socially
responsible, popular Saudi satirical shows on YouTube that poke fun at
society should be not be removed or censored.
"A society that does
not laugh about itself cannot progress," he said. "It's very difficult
to regulate online activity. We don't want to be like China."