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Kuwait boasts a score of privately owned daily and weekly newspapers in Arabic and two English-language dailies. Kuwait’s written press has for decades played a major role in the political debate and reflects a tradition of diversity and outspokenness. It gives wide coverage to political debates during election campaigns.
Freedom of expression has been given a further boost by the liberalisation of the broadcast sector and the creation of numerous satellite television channels as a result of several press law reforms. Parliament has, since the beginning of 2009, been debating the possibility of setting up a 24-hour news channel similar to al-Jazeera and al-Arabiyya. The launch of such a channel is seen as a means of furthering the state’s influence.
Kuwaiti legislation has become the most liberal in the region, since press law reform in 2006 that abolished the use of prison sentences. Moreover, a newspaper can only be closed down on the order of a court.
However, criminal law – that does provide for prison sentences – still applies to some offences, such as “defamation” or “attacks on religion”. And even if the threat of prison no longer hangs over journalists like a sword of Damocles as it did before 2006, heavy fines recently handed down by some judges have undermined some of the advances made by the local and foreign press. The Kuwait Journalists’ Association has recorded more than 90 defamation cases currently under judgement.
There are effectively some “red lines” that the emirate’s journalists cannot cross. The person of the head of state and members of the royal family or people holding key posts all remain sensitive subjects that are not raised. The level of self-censorship among Kuwaiti journalists is still quite high.
Kuwait’s information ministry on 25 August 2009 blacked out the broadcasting of the satirical programme Sawtak Wasal on privately owned satellite channel Scope TV, after it had put out three episodes lampooning Kuwaiti political figures.
Kuwait - 7 March 2013
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