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News channel director fired after airing critical comments; Information minister bans live programmes on state television

(RSF/IFEX) - Information minister Iyad Madani announced a nationwide ban on all live broadcasts on Saudi public TV channels on 30 January 2008, two days after angry viewers made unflattering comments about senior officials, including King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, during a phone-in programme on the news channel Al-Ikhbariya. The station's director, Mohammed Al-Tunsi, was fired.

"This measure aims to prevent the public from hearing their grievances expressed on the air," Reporters Without Borders said. "While press freedom is far from being a reality in Saudi Arabia, the emergence of live chat shows was a big advance. We urge the authorities to reverse this decision and to reinstate Al-Ikhbariya's director."
During the 28 January show on Al-Ikhbariya, viewers who called in expressed anger about the government's failure to sufficiently increase the salaries of state employees. According to the website Elaph, the information minister decided two days later to replace Tunsi by one of his own aides from within the ministry. The government is reportedly also poised to impose prior censorship on all TV broadcasts.
Al-Ikhbariya's coverage of the social and economic problems that Saudis face has been very popular.
Saudi Arabia was ranked 148th out of 169 countries in the world press freedom index issued by Reporters Without Borders in October 2007.

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