Saudi went ahead with the revolutionary decision to allow movie viewing again in the kingdom following a ban on it imposed since 1980, citing religious concerns at the time.
So now, 35 years later, all eyes are turned towards Saudi Arabia’s new set of actions in the framework of Vision 2030, launched by Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman.
But before one jumps up and down with joy, one needs to remember that governments have the right to censure what it deems to be not suitable for mass audiences, and Saudi is not different.
It is expected that censorship will play its role in transitioning this move from not-allowed to closely monitored. What can we expect?
Current shape of censorship
According to Pen International, a platform that promotes freedom of expression, it describes Saudi Arabia as a country which applies censorship to all forms of media expression.
It said that the prior censorship rules under the 2003 Law on Printed Materials and Publications have led to foreign newspapers being circulated with articles blacked out, or pages stuck together.
“YouTube is disliked by authorities and they acted to block some accounts and there have been threats to block the whole system,” it said.
According to Reporters Without Borders, Saudi Arabia ranks 168 out of 180 countries on the Press Freedom Index.
Amnesty International reported that censorship was at its peak after passing the 2014 Terrorism Law.
“With millions of web users in Saudi Arabia, this means the authorities are keeping an eye on everything that’s being written,” it said.
In September 2017, Saudi Arabia lifted a ban on voice calling apps, including WhatsApp and Skype, in an attempt to boost economic growth, according to the Communications and Information Technology Commission.
It was a positive move forward, but the calls will be monitored by authorities.
Adel Abu Hameed, spokesman for telecoms regulator CITC: “Under no circumstances can the user use an application for video or voice calling without monitoring and censorship by the Communications and Information Technology Commission, whether the application is global or local.”
Despite the increased censorship in Saudi Arabia, people on social media are expressing enthusiasm and hope about the new move.
The Independent.ie, an Irish news site, quoted Saudis expressing joy at the lifting of the movie ban, posting images of buckets of popcorn and moving graphics of people dancing, fainting and crying.
Let’s also rejoice about what just happened.
Worth the watch
The idea of launching movie theatres in the kingdom is ground breaking, by Saudi standards.
Saudi’s launching of movie theaters comes within the framework of the kingdom’s Private Investment Fund plan to set up a $2.7bn company to invest in entertainment, including theatres at new malls, as reported.
“The Board of the General Commission for Audiovisual Media (GCAM) passed a resolution allowing it to grant licences to cinemas, including commercial providers, according to a board statement.
It quoted Awwad Alawwad, Minister of Culture and Information, as saying: “As the industry regulator, the General Commission for Audiovisual Media has started the process for licensing cinemas in the Kingdom. We expect the first cinemas to open in March 2018.”
Setting the stage
Concerts started to take place in the kingdom with Lebanese soprano star Hiba Tawaji also taking part in the festivities on December 6.
Also, Saudi women attended the “Short Film Competition 2” festival, at King Fahad Culture Center in Riyadh in October, according to AFP.
“The rare movie night in Riyadh was a precursor to what is expected to be a formal lifting of the kingdom’s ban on cinemas,” it said.
On Dec. 14, Rapper Nelly will take the stage to perform in Jeddah, albeit in front of a crowd of only men. He will sing alongside Algerian singer Cheb Khaled.