Saudi youths live out their lives online
Saudi youths have expressed anger over a recent decision to block a torrent website
I remember at the beginning of the 1980s, we had neighbors whose father wouldn’t let them have a TV because he thought it was a heresy or prohibited, even though the TV on broadcast one local channel at the time.
The channel began broadcasting royal greetings at 5 o’ clock and then it broadcast recitations of the holy Qur’an tand then there was half an hour of cartoons - that was the children’s share of TV time before they headed out to play in the neighborhood - then the adults’ boring shows would begin. If children had no TV at home, they would go to their neighbors’ house to watch it. These children then became well-known for being very passionate about TV. When they became teenagers, they began to stay out late - either at neighbors’ houses or at coffee shops - since there was no TV in their home. These children have now grown up and they’ve seen the world expand and develop. The TV no longer broadcasts one local channel but numerous satellite channels. They’ve become fans of the cinema, which they travel outside Saudi Arabia to visit. Their father only succeeded in putting them in a confused situation regarding him and not regarding the TV.
Blocking torrent websites
I remembered this story while reading the news on some youths’ anger over a recent decision by the Ministry of Culture and the Saudi television authority to block a famous torrent website.
According to the ministry, this decision was made because the website violates the ministry’s and the media’s regulations as it provides pirated movies, music and games. This is reason enough to block the website, according to the ministry.
The decision was rejected by many female and male youths, particularly by those interested in cinema and movies, as the website helped them watch many new movies which they cannot otherwise watch since there are no movie theatres in Saudi Arabia. To watch these new movies, they’d have to travel 500 kilometers away from Riyadh and cross Bahrain’s bridge or travel to Dubai. The ministry objects as these movies are pirated.
The youths protest that as long as the Ministry of Culture cannot provide a movie theater, it does not have the right to prevent them from watching movies even if they are pirated. Now, we cannot encourage youths to violate global cultural and intellectual property rights but we do understand the reasons they’re protesting as they’re wondering: “Does this ban protect the rights of movies which are not available in Saudi Arabia? Or is Saudi Arabia worried that the torrents website would decrease the number of those who attend movie theatres which don’t exist in Saudi Arabia? Or maybe the ministry has the right to ban the website if it provides a movies’ market or a cultural movement that meets the youths’ needs for theatre, cinema, music and other arts.” This makes the ministry looks like the father who prevented his children from watching TV so they had to watch it at the neighbors’ house.
What veterans don’t know - and I think most of the culture ministry’s employees are among them - is that their knowledge in these websites is nothing compared to that of youths. Hundreds of new websites are launched every day, and they are famous and successful because they bring together people of similar interests. Banning them or monitoring them will not yield results, if people find a way to break the firewall. Whenever the ministry blocks a website, it involves itself in a question that everyone and not only youths ask: “Is there an alternative?”
This article was first published in al-Hayat on April 13, 2014.
Dr. Badria al-Bishr is a multi-award-winning Saudi columnist and novelist. A PhD graduate from the American University of Beirut, and an alumnus of the U.S. State Department International Visitor program. Her columns put emphasis on women and social issues in Saudi Arabia. She currently lectures at King Saud University's Department of Social Studies.