Freedom of the Press 2010

Freedom Of The Press - Kuwait (2010)

Status: Partly Free
Legal Environment: 18
Political Environment: 21
Economic Environment: 16
Total Score: 55

  • Freedoms of speech and the press are protected under Articles 36 and 37 of the constitution, but only “in accordance with the conditions and in the circumstances defined by law.” Under 2006 amendments to the press law, press offenses are no longer criminal in nature; offenders now face steep fines instead. However, Kuwaiti law prohibits and continues to demand jail time for the publication of material that insults God, the prophets, or Islam, and forbids criticism of the emir, disclosing secret or private information, and calling for the regime’s overthrow. Any citizen may press criminal charges against an author suspected of violating these bans.
  • The law requires newspaper publishers to obtain an operating license from the Ministry of Information (MOI). In March 2008, the MOI revoked the licenses of two weekly newspapers and fined their editors, one for “besmirching the prime minister’s reputation” and the other for publishing political articles despite a license limited to arts and culture. No revocations were reported in 2009. The MOI screens all imported media for morally offensive content, and controls the publication and distribution of all materials classified as informational.
  • As the risk of fines, arrest, and imprisonment must be factored into reporting, journalists and publishers continued to practice self-censorship. Journalist Mohammed Abdelqader al-Jassem was arrested in November 2009 and spent 12 days in jail while he refused to post bail. The charges against him related to an August article in which he accused progovernment media of fueling religious tension in the country; the case was pending at year’s end. Charges were also pending against the daily Al-Ruia for an article relaying May 2009 remarks in which a member of parliament criticized divisions within the ruling family.
  • The country has 14 Arabic and 3 English-language daily newspapers, all privately owned. Print outlets in Kuwait are largely independent and diverse in their reporting, and rank among the most outspoken and aggressive in the region. Nonetheless, the Kuwaiti press practices a degree of self-censorship to avoid conflict with the government.
  • The state owns nine local radio stations and five television stations. However, there are now 16 privately owned television stations, and satellite dishes are commonly used.
  • International news is widely available, with a number of international media outlets operating bureaus in Kuwait. News sources originating outside Kuwait must be reviewed by the MOI before circulation; in late 2008, the government lifted a 2007 ban on the import and circulation of several Egyptian newspapers.
  • An estimated 37 percent of the population used the internet in 2009. The government monitored internet communications for defamation and security threats, and the Ministry of Communications (MOC) continued to block websites deemed to “incite terrorism and instability.” Internet-service providers are required to block other websites as directed by the government, and internet cafe owners must collect customers’ names and identification numbers and pass the information to the MOC upon request. A new internet censorship law proposed in 2009 would place greater restrictions on websites and blogs, but no action had been taken on the measure by year’s end.
  • Zayed al-Zaid, publisher of the news website Al-Aan, was beaten in October 2009 while at a conference on transparency, presumably in response to Al-Aan’s coverage of corruption issues. Kuwaiti politicians spoke out against the attack, and the prime minister pledged a complete investigation.