Interesting piece in Arab News on the line where Saudi media and reporters meet with Saudi courts. According to current law—albeit ambiguously—the media cannot report on active cases, or possibly even settled cases. This runs rather in the face of calls for transparency of government operations.
One cleric believes that media might play an undue role in influencing judges’ opinions. To me, that’s a problem with judges, not with the media. Judges, under the Saudi system, are supposed to rely on the law, not public opinion to reach their decisions. If they are swayed by what other people think, that may be human, but it’s not ‘justice’ under the law.
Giving courts immunity from scrutiny or criticism does nothing to enhance the respect people give to the law or to the courts and judges. Given the strange judgments issuing from some Saudi judges, public scrutiny and criticism are exactly what is called for.
The media do have responsibilities as well, of course. They should not be reporting rumor; they should not be injecting personal opinion into reporting on cases. Opining in editorial columns, though, is a different matter. If something is going awry, then the media do have responsibilities to make that known. They have to be reporting on facts, however, not preferences.
Sheikh Al-Hussain’s worry that Western media reporting on Saudi court cases defames the country is utterly immaterial. It should make no difference to how the courts operate other than to alert them that their behavior is in the public eye. The solution to ‘defamation’ is clear explanation of how they came to decisions—transparency—not hiding behind a veil of immunity.
Experts divided over media coverage of court cases
FATIMA SIDIYA | ARAB NEWS
JEDDAH: Should court cases that are active be reported in the media or not? This is a question that Saudi media law is unclear on, say lawyers.
Opinions on the issue are divided with some saying media reports of active cases can influence public opinion to the detriment of the case. On the other hand, others feel press reporting actually leads to positive outcomes to cases.
Discussing the issue at a recent judicial seminar in Riyadh, Sheikh Saleh Al-Hussain, head of the General Presidency for the Two Holy Mosques, criticized media coverage of active cases, adding that it is vital that the Kingdom’s judiciary is respected. “Any attack on the judiciary is an attack on the reputation of the country,” he said after explaining that some active court cases have been reported in the West to defame the Kingdom.
“No one should criticize judicial rulings, or report cases that are still being considered by the judiciary,” he said.
According to the Kingdom’s publication law (Article 73), “It is not legal to publish investigations or court hearings related to personal issues or other (issues) unless an authorization is taken from the concerned authorities.” Lawyers say the wording in this piece of legislation is ambiguous and open to interpretation.