On Monday, Qatar-based news network Al Jazeera’s Acting Director General Mostefa Souag said Snapchat’s actions were “alarming and worrying” after the US-based messaging and media sharing platform blocked their channel from the discover publisher section in Saudi Arabia following request from the Saudi government. The block was introduced on Sunday, and the Saudi government accused Al Jazeera of content violating cyber crime laws of the kingdom.
Mostefa Souag said Snapchat’s action “sends a message that regimes and countries can silence any voice or platform they don’t agree with by exerting pressure on the owners of social media platforms and content distribution companies. This step is a clear attack on the rights of journalists and media professionals to report and cover stories freely from around the world”.
A spokesperson of Snapchat’s parent company, Snap, Inc., on Sunday, said, “We make an effort to comply with local laws in the countries where we operate”. Al Jazeera’s Snapchat content outside the discover channel can be accessed by Saudis. Snap, Inc. said the channel’s content is available in fourteen Middle Eastern countries.
Al Jazeera was blocked in Saudi Arabia and the UAE in late May, amid controversy over remarks allegedly made by Qatar. Four countries, Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE broke their diplomatic ties with Qatar for allegedly supporting “extremists”. Accused by those four nations of funding militant groups, Qatar was issued with a list of thirteen demands, including shutting down Al Jazeera, to lift the sanctions. In July, Egypt foreign ministry announced citizens of Qatar could no longer travel to Egypt without a visa, ending the visa-free travels to the country for Qataris. However, a spokesperson of the foreign ministry said those measures would not apply to Qatari students studying in Egyptian public universities, nor to partners or children of Egyptians.
Al Jazeera’s head of Incubation and Innovation Research, Morad Rayyan, said, “We are urging them [Snapchat] to review the decision that was made. They were the ones who invited us to be one of their news partners for the region.”