A Saudi official denied on Friday that bloggers and web forums would be forced to register under a new electronic media law, after remarks he made sparked outrage among Saudi internet users.
Ministry of information domestic media supervisor Abdulrahman al-Hazzaa clarified that the new law will require on-line news sites to be licensed, but would only encourage bloggers and others to register.
“We are not putting it in our mind to license them. There are so many we cannot control them,” he said of the thousands of Saudi bloggers and online forum operators.
He said remarks he made Thursday on Al-Arabiya television about registering blogs were misunderstood, that this would only be voluntary.
“It’s not required, no; it’s not in the plan,” he told AFP.
His original remarks sparked an uproar among Facebook and Twitter users. Hundreds of people, in a Twitter thread dedicated to his comments, complained about government media controls.
Hazzaa told AFP that new regulations being finalized are mainly to give his department supervisory authority over electronic media, as it has over traditional print and broadcast media and publishing in Saudi Arabia.
He said there are more than 100 news websites, and that licensing them would permit their reporters to take part in regular media activities alongside traditional media.
“For the e-press, these are more related to our job,” he said.
Saudi media is tightly supervised by the government, and the most prominent newspapers are owned by people who are a part of or closely linked to the ruling Al-Saud family.
The new regulations would also give the ministry authority over internet-related defamation cases, which it currently has for print and broadcast media.
The government already has a mechanism to block access to websites it does not like, for instance those of human rights activists and hardline Al-Qaeda supporters.
But Hazzaa said it is futile for his office to try to supervise the content of blogs and social media like Facebook pages.
“The day I shut a site, tomorrow they will open it by a new name,” he said.