In the case of censorship, governments often turn to apps and services to do their work for them–meaning that if they can turn off a service or app from the company itself, they can easily block access to users in their country. This is what has just happened with Snapchat. Due to pressure from the Saudi Arabian government, they have now removed the news channel Al Jazeera from their “Snapchat Discover” feature that lets Snapchat users discover content within the app.
In 2015, Snapchat launched their discover feature which lets broadcasters, publishers, and other producers spread content. In the same year, Al Jazeera launched their discover channel within the app and in May this year, they launched their Arabian news channel.
When asked about the decision, a Snapchat spokesperson explained the issue. “We make an effort to comply with local laws in the countries where we operate.” To be honest, it reminds us a bit of the latest Apple controversy in China, where they removed VPN apps from the Chinese iOS app store.
Apparently, according to the Ministry of Culture and Information in Saudi Arabia, Al Jazeera was violating Article 9 of the Saudi law of Printed Material and Publication, and Article 6 of the Saudi Anti-Cybercrime Law.
Article 9 pertains to clauses that apply to the media which means that they cannot incite feuds or spread “dissent” among citizens or jeopardize the country’s security by serving foreign interests. Of course, if content has any political message or strong voice, it could easily violate this Article since the definitions and broad scope of the article are very broad.
Article 6 prevents the spread of controversial content even further by censoring the “production, preparation, transmission, or storage of material impinging on public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy, through the information network or computers.”
The basic idea is that both of these articles allow Saudi Arabia complete control of the media in the country. Saudi Arabia is ranked 168th in the “Reporters without Borders” rankings. Their site explains the issues aptly.
“Saudi Arabia has no independent media, the authorities tolerate neither political parties, unions, nor human rights groups, and the level of self-censorship is extremely high. The Internet is the only space where freely-reported information and views can circulate, albeit at great risk to its citizen journalists. ”
In the case of this Snapchat issue, these issues are very apparent, and in some ways, it’s just a small example of censorship in the country and how powerful it has become. It doesn’t help that the news network Al Jazeera has a long history of controversial opinions and oppositions to the government.
Dr Mostefa Souag, acting director general of the Al Jazeera Media group released a statement on the issue.
“We find Snapchat’s action to be alarming and worrying. This sends a message that regimes and countries can silence any voice or platform they don’t agree with by exerting pressure on the owners of social media platforms and content distribution companies. This step is a clear attack on the rights of journalists and media professionals to report and cover stories freely from around the world.”
Al Jazeera’s Snapchat content has also been removed in other countries in the Middle East, like the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Yemen, Tunisia, and Oman. Fortunately, with TorGuard VPN active on your mobile device, you can get complete control over Snapchat and access channels unblocked and unrestricted by local governance.