Saudi media industry opening up, says Al Watan boss

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Saudi Arabia's media sector is opening up, says Prince Bandar bin Khaled al-Faisal, who is chairman of the daily Al Watan newspaper

Saudi Arabia's media sector is opening up, says Prince Bandar bin Khaled al-Faisal, who is chairman of the daily Al Watan newspaper

Saudi Arabia's media environment is growing more open despite changes to press laws that have been criticised as restrictive by international rights groups, the prince who runs a leading pro-reform Saudi newspaper said on Sunday.

"The laws with respect to media have been in evolution for the past 40-odd years and just in the 10 years that I've been involved in this industry I've seen it move forward tremendously," Prince Bandar bin Khaled al-Faisal, who is chairman of the daily Al Watan newspaper, said.

Watan is seen by analysts as being towards the progressive end of the kingdom's media spectrum, featuring editorials that broadly support economic and social reforms pushed by King Abdullah and sometimes challenge conservative thinking.

Amnesty International said last week in a report that the world's top oil exporter was cracking down on freedom of expression in the wake of uprisings across the Arab world.

The report cited changes announced in April, when state news agency SPA reported that publications that jeopardised national stability or offended clerics faced fines or even closure under a royal decree.

"The media is severely constrained and those who express dissent face arrest and imprisonment, whether political critics, bloggers or academics," said the report, which also criticised a draft of an anti-terrorism law leaked to the press in June.

The Saudi embassy in London said Amnesty's report was based on inaccurate information.

A 2009 US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks said the kingdom's press had grown steadily bolder over the past decade, thanks partly to Abdullah's efforts to push media owners to report more openly on social issues.

Prince Bandar, a son of the governor of Mecca Province and a great-nephew of King Abdullah, said he believed there was no campaign under way to clamp down on media.

"What you need to focus on is what is approved and what is implemented. And if you look at the track record over the past four or so decades, every single (change) that comes in has been a refinement in my point of view that has been positive," he told Reuters in Dubai.

"I have no reason to suspect it would go in any other direction and, honestly, you can't take it in any other direction."

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