Media houses to dock journalists’ pay for press law violations
11 February 2012
By Omar Elmershedi - Saudi Gazette - JEDDAH – A number of the Kingdom’s media houses are preparing to dock the pay of their journalists for any fines incurred for misreporting and defamation under the country’s newly-revised Press and Publications Law.
Reporters and opinion writers face fines of up to SR500,000 for violating the legislation.
Saudi Gazette has learned that media owners are redrafting contracts to allow them the legal right to deduct fines from the salaries of their staff.
The revised contract of a major Saudi publishing company now reads: “The first party in this contract (the publishing company President/Director-General), could with no legal consequences, deduct from the monthly pay of the author/writer (the second party in this contract), the necessary sum to pay for the financial fine imposed on him/her (the second party author/writer), by the appointed press committee of the Ministry of Culture and Information.”
The contract also allows the media house to sue journalists for the money in the country’s courts.
However, the contract makes it possible for the two parties to amicably settle their disputes outside of the judicial system, through various forms of mediation.
The contract absolves the media house’s Editor-in-Chief and his assigned representative of any legal liability for legal breaches by journalists.
A poll of 50 students at Prince Sultan College for Tourism and Business in Jeddah (PSCJ) showed wide acceptance of the new law.
Fawaz Al-Mhaisni, a graduating senior, believes there must be some control over the media. “Freedom of speech is an honorable principle but it could be a rabid dog if not leashed. I support people’s right to know but the goal should be trustworthy information and news. Let’s at least have some clean air in the print media because cyber space is polluted [with defamatory and poor reporting].”
Abdul Aziz Al-Hegail, another student, thinks a fine of SR500,000 is too heavy. “I would suggest an apology by the author/writer in the publication. This is fair and is some form of disciplinary action.”
A retired senior opinion editor, who wished to remain anonymous, said the behavior of officials must also be regulated under the law.
“Fair enough, but officials should also be held accountable for not supplying the requested information. I could tell you many tales of public relations officers and officials not responding to our faxes or simply turning off their mobiles. On some occasions we were even insulted and scorned. Freedom of expression and fact-finding efforts should not be suppressed.”