Press freedom in Oman: almost non-existent
To mark the UN’s World Press Freedom Day on May 3, the Omani Centre for Human Rights presents this factsheet on the state of the media in Oman.
In Oman there is one official newspaper, the daily Oman, plus a number of private newspapers and publications such as Al-Shabiba, Al Watan and Alroya. There are other newspapers and magazines, both printed and online, in Arabic and other languages, but their editorial policies are all pro-government, and they loyally toe the government line as to what is permitted.
The case of Azamn newspaper – initially shut down in August 2016 – ended with a Supreme Court ruling leading to its permanent closure in October 2017.
The online magazine Muwatin remains blocked in Oman, despite international statements of condemnation.
Freedom House, a US-based monitoring organisation, classifies Oman in its 2018 report as “not free”, and gives it a score of 1 out of 4 for “free and independent media”, meaning that freedom of the press is almost non-existent.
Meanwhile Reporters Without Borders, in its 2018 World Press Freedom Index, ranks Oman in 127th position out of 180 countries, down from 126th in 2017, and colours it red (for “bad”) on its press freedom map.
Journalists are liable to arrest and detention if they contact international media organisations to publish news that the government may regard as harmful to the prestige of the state or public security.
Journalists in Oman are supposed to disclose their sources if required by the government to do so.
Article 26 of the Omani Press and Publications Law is seen by many activists, writers, journalists and bloggers as a blatant violation of the right to freedom of opinion, expression and publication. It states:
“It is prohibited to publish anything that might compromise the State’s safety or its internal or external security, as well as anything related to military or security bodies, their systems and internal regulations, or any confidential documents, information, news or official communications, whether through visual, audio or written media or through the internet or by means of information technology, unless authorized by the competent authorities.”
Article 115 (a) of the recently updated Omani Penal Code can be viewed as threatening any attempt to do journalistic work that strays beyond the limits imposed on the rest of the press by government and security requirements. It prescribes a punishment of not less than three months and not more than three years for anyone who:
“deliberately instigates, broadcasts or publishes at home or abroad false or tendentious news, information or rumours or spreads provocative propaganda that is liable to harm the prestige of the State or undermine confidence in its financial markets or its economic and financial standing”.
It should also be pointed out that the Omani Information Ministry, under the direct supervision of the Omani Internal Security Service, controls the choice of correspondents by foreign news agencies, newspapers and TV stations operating outside Oman, including Reuters, Al Jazeera and Al Hurra. Correspondents for these organisations have continued to file written and video reports tackling sensitive issues in the country, especially concerning human rights, migrant workers and the justice system, issues that are generally hushed up.
According to the OCHR’s sources, the Omani Information Ministry grants journalism and media licences to whichever journalists and broadcasters it likes, and denies them to others or withdraws them should they raise issues that are meant to be kept quiet. Observers have reported cases where reputable international media organisations have taken it upon themselves to ask the Omani government’s permission to chose who it thinks fit to cover major events in the country.