EDITOR OF KUWAIT TIMES SPEAKS ON PRESS CENSORSHIP AT AWARE CENTER
By Kevin Stoda
On June 10, Jamie Etheridge, the Texas-born managing editor of the KUWAIT TIMES
http://www.kuwaittimes.net/ , one of Kuwaits 3 major English daily newspapers, led a diwaniya at the AWARE CENTER where she focused on censorship in the Kuwaiti press. Etheridge, who arrived in Kuwait from Texas in 2004, also writes for STRATFOR and the CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR.
Etheridge began the diwaniya, a Kuwaiti word for meeting whereby a speaker talks from fifteen minutes to half an hour on particular topic. This sort of diwaniya is then followed by open comments and questions from the audience. (Diwaniya also means a particular place for regular meetings held by various families or tribes in the area.)
PROBLEMS WITH CENSORSHIP
Concerning censorship in Kuwait, Etheridge noted that there are three main forms or sources of censorship. These are (1) journalist’s self-censorship, (2) difficulties in persuading sources to go public, and (3) adverse pressures from advertisers--or from advertising in general.
Etheridge began the discussion be stating: “The greatest problem journalists face here in Kuwait is self-censorship. This is particularly true for Arab journalists who are pretty aware of how writings will affect certain communities in Kuwait.” This refers to how families, tribes, and well-connected personages will respond to any particular article or report.
Kuwait is country of approximately the size of New Jersey, and most people live in a relatively small urban area along the central coast. Therefore, in one sense, Kuwait is like a village of 3 million people. There are 11 daily newspapers here and most of them are targeted at the wealthy Kuwaiti population, who make up less than one-third of the city state’s total population. Only the English language dailies target the much larger ex-patriate community.
There is also some degree of official censorship, for example it is against the law to say bad things about the Emir of the country and to make fun of religion. Etheridge provided one example of when her paper got into trouble for displaying a political cartoon with the image of God in it. In that case, the newspaper had to print an apology and pay a fine.
Fear of censorship and worries about what certain families and cliques in society will think or do in reaction to any particular article leads to a greater form of censorship in Kuwait—i.e. self-censorship--just as such self-censorship function in most of small-town USA or possibly just about corner of the globe, where local feelings dominate the press on a wide variety of issues.
Last month, one of Etheridge’s journalists had decided to write about a fascinating park in Kuwait, where homosexuals meet regularly. The journalists had made a great pitch for the story and the interest it would bring.
However, after the article began to be written, this same journalist began to get cold feet and demanded that his/her name not be used on the piece. More disturbing still--to the editors--was the fact that the article had lost much of the specificity the journalist had originally share in terms of describing the where, who, and why of the location. In short, that Arab writer was becoming more and more concerned about the bad backwash such an article would have on family, friends and acquaintances in Kuwait. (See that article here in its final form: http://www.kuwaittimes.net/read_news.php?newsid=MTI3MTUyNjA0OA== )
Thus, self-censorship not only led to this journalist removing his/her name from the piece, but the story had become a bit more vague, ethereal and nebulous in terms of space, time and source of quotations by the time it was published.
GETTING SOURCES TO BE QUOTED IN KUWAIT