Debate over licenses for YouTube channels

24 April 2014
Plans are under way by the government's new media watchdog to regulate content on YouTube posted by Saudi-based entertainment companies and individuals, according to the head of the body.

The General Authority for Audiovisual Media would require local production houses to have government-issued licenses, said Riyadh Najem, the organization's president.

He said his organization is tasked with monitoring audiovisual media operations in the country to make sure they "comply with the nature of society and ... laws in this context."

"We are working on embracing these talents and developing their artistic and technical abilities."

Licensing would help guarantee quality, he told a media outlet earlier this week.

It is unclear when the government would draft and enforce the new regulations.

Saudi Arabia is the world's top per capita user of YouTube with over 190 million hits a day.

Over the past few years, there has been significant growth in the audience of Saudi-produced talk and comedy shows, criticizing government activities and celebrities.

A recent study released by YouTube's Think Insights showed that 78 percent of adults in Saudi Arabia are heavy YouTube viewers. Nearly half of the population is under 25.

Many entertainment companies and individuals have turned to YouTube for easy access and with a much freer media space.

"Until we see the details, it's a bit alarming, a threat for us," Kaswara Al-Khatib, chairman and chief executive of Jeddah-based UTURN Entertainment, reportedly said.

UTURN has more than 290 million views.

"You don't want to be controlled because the whole idea is that we want to express ourselves."

Al-Khatib said he had previously discussed the matter with Najm, who told him UTURN's current output would not be prohibited, but that the sector could no longer be unregulated.

"The whole idea is to regulate it in a way to make sure which areas are affected and the areas that should not be touched," said Al-Khatib.

"He seems to be supportive and understands it's not conventional media and that online is a totally different ballgame."

Ahmad, a daily YouTube viewer, said he was wary of the new proposal.

"Such regulations will just curb creativity and free speech ... Most of the entertainment shows don't cross red lines, they just make fun of our reality," he said.

© Arab News 2014


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