This is a research paper that was presented at the Global Investigative Journalism Conference 2017 Academic Track, which IJEC organized and covered. For more research and coverage of GIJC17, see here.
Challenges Confronting Investigative Journalism in Saudi Arabia
By Ali Almania
The purpose of this study is to explore the challenges confronting investigative journalists in Saudi Arabia. As a result of the prevailing political system, the gatekeepers of the Saudi news media have imposed legal restrictions on investigative journalism. This study considers whether the political changes that are taking place in some Arab countries after the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ in 2010 have led to more or less investigative reporting. Semi-structured interviews were held with three Saudi newspapers’ editors in chief, who were asked about their criteria for accepting or rejecting investigative stories.
This study used descriptive analytical methodology, and the findings indicate that the practice of investigative journalism in Saudi Arabia is at a very low level due to the strong connection between media and the political system. This study asserts that Saudi newspapers are controlled by the political system, lack institutional structures, and are run by editors in chief who do not act independently, with the political system dictating what they can do. Some editors in chief are more cautious about allowing investigative reporting, as this might negatively reflect on them. They seek authorities’ permission before publishing investigative reports, which is against the principle of freedom of the press. This study asserts that Saudi press laws do not encourage the practice of investigative journalism and that journalists have low levels of freedom. They are wary, lest their reporting lead to them getting arrested. The changes in the political climates in some Arab countries have led to sterner measures taken against investigative reporting. Due to the lack of a full-fledged policy to govern investigative reporting in Saudi Arabia, there is less opportunity for investigative journalism to flourish there.
Keywords: Investigative Journalism, Challenges, Politics, Saudi Arabia.
Challenges Confronting Investigative Journalism in Saudi Arabia
Investigative journalism plays a key role in serving society by detecting corruption, enhancing transparency, and reinforcing public opinion. Investigative journalists often shoulder the responsibility for uncovering corruption and other wrongdoing (de Burgh,2008; Kaplan, 2008; O’Neill,2010). However, there are several issues that impact investigative journalists’ ability to act with intellectual and professional freedom. Journalists face other influencing factors, such as media owners’ mandates, advertisers’ preferences, and the high cost of investigative journalism (Griffin, 2014; Raphael et al., 2004). Such factors are also true in the case of Saudi newspapers, which are greatly impacted by the political system and are not independent publishers, as they are forced to abide by the government’s political guidelines and censorship (Freedom House, 2014). Saudi culture and politics are the primary obstacles to investigative journalism (Alhomoud, 2013; Al-Nassar, 2014). This paper examines the relationship between the political system and investigative journalism through the opinions of three Saudi newspapers’ editors in chief. The study also examines how the political system impacts investigative journalism in Saudi Arabia.
Definition of Investigative Journalism
Investigative journalism means ‘going after what someone wants to hide’ (de Burgh, 2008, p. 15). The late Bob Greene, who was with the U.S.-based journalist organisation Investigative Reporters and Editors, said the three basic elements of investigative reporting are: ‘that the investigation be the work of the reporter, not the work of others that he is reporting; that the subject of the story involves something that is important for his or her readers to know; and that others are attempting to hide the truth of these matters from the people’ (Bolch & Miller, 1978, p.3). Investigative journalism is meant to uncover hidden facts. Aucoin (2007) describes several elements of investigative reporting: It’s meant to expose information about an important issue that interests the public, it’s related to an individual or organisation that does not want to be part of any investigative story uncovered through journalistic investigations, and it often aims to elicit reforms (p. 91). Weinberg (1996) believes that the journalist takes the initiative in reporting about issues that are important to the public, which is the essence of investigative journalism.
Investigative journalism, as it is applied in the West, differs from what Saudi and other Arab journalists consider to be investigative journalism, and what most newspapers in Arab countries publish demonstrates this difference (Al-Nassar, 2014). Furthermore, investigative journalism, as it is practiced in Arab countries, is still not even clearly defined. A common mistake in Arab journalistic usage is the use of terms for ‘features’ and ‘investigative’ reports that sometimes overlap. Tahqeeq (investigation) is mostly used to describe a feature, which is a story with a human-interest angle, while tahqeeq istiqsa’ee (investigative report) is the term used by media professionals to explain what investigative reporters do.
Additionally, the turbulent political and economic situation in Arab countries since the Arab Spring has made the practice of investigative reporting precarious. A 2014 report on freedom of the press in Arab countries indicates backsliding press freedom since the Arab Spring uprisings and dwindling political power in Arab countries that experienced such uprisings. In fact, the Arab Spring has led to some press-freedom gains in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. However, in Libya, owing to a lack of security, journalists and press staff have been exposed to risks, threats, kidnappings, and attacks by groups, including militias, with the slaying of an Al Jazeera photojournalist in Benghazi being one of the most notable instances (Freedom House, 2014).
On the other hand, political turmoil in countries that experienced the Arab Spring led to violations of freedom of the press, higher risks for journalists, and increased censorship. There also have been occasions in which journalists were accused of presenting reports to the public that violated the norms of society and religion (Hamdy, 2013). Some Arab countries, such as the Arab Gulf states, which did not experience the Arab Spring, strengthened media censorship as they targeted potential opponents of their regimes (Davidson 2012). However, Arab citizens are encouraged by their access to so many platforms to voice their opinions, including social media, where stringent censoring measures are less effective.
Challenges facing investigative journalism
Investigative journalism flourishes with freedom of the press. In countries such as the U.S., U.K., Canada, Scandinavian countries, and Australia, investigative journalism is more common and free to flourish than in countries with stringent press censorship. In less-democratic countries, or those with unstable regimes, including Russia, some Middle Eastern and Eastern European countries, and nations in the Far East and Africa, investigative journalism is significantly scant or may not even exist at all (Aucoin, 2003; Martin, 2010). The challenges facing investigative journalism vary by culture and are influenced by politics, financing, time constraints, the commitment of media owners and journalists, and legal restrictions imposed by governments (Baker, 2005; de Burgh, 2008).
Investigative journalism faces many legal, political, and economic obstacles. In many countries, the lack of laws that protect the public also limits investigative reporting. There are instances in which the law of the land does not protect the privacy of journalists, and journalists do not have ‘the right to reply’ (Waisbord, 2001). Journalists also fear being insulted or having their reputations tarnished, leading to many shying away from investigative reporting. Regarding political barriers, politicians in these nations generally view investigative journalism as a nuisance rather than a democratic ideal. Hence, it is common for politicians to exert pressure on investigative reporters, which can include accusing them of wrongdoing. Consequently, politicians suppress investigative reports by allying themselves with publishers and editors to intimidate investigative journalists. It’s no wonder that since most media companies depend on government financing, they toe the line adopted by the government. This shows that economic constraints can be a major factor that influences investigative journalism (Waisbord, 2001).
Fleeson (2000) asserts that some of the most common challenges to investigative reporting in both developing and developed countries include lack of information, lack of access to documents, and reporters’ fears of being targeted or threatened, leading to safety concerns. This makes the work of investigative reporters very difficult. Additionally, when journalists are not granted the right to keep their sources secret, their informants might become more reluctant to supply them with important information, thereby hindering investigative reporters’ ability to serve the public (Bauer, 2005). Such obstacles are more prominent in less-democratic countries. Martin (2010) says governments subsidise even privately owned newspapers to the extent that if those newspapers published material that went against the government, they would lose government subsidies or even lose their licenses altogether. This has been documented in Arab countries. As Al-Zahrani (2015) stated, the media in Arab countries are still controlled by political authorities. Even private media, which do not depend on the government for subsidies, are still strongly controlled by the political powers there.
Martin (2010) asserts that challenges to investigative journalism exist in most Arab countries.
In Arab countries, journalists face a barbed maze fraught with intimidation, demotion, incarceration, and sometimes even death. The most common way that Arab governments stifle investigative reporting is by applying financial pressure. Arab states are intimately involved in the economic well-being of many Arab news organisations, so they apply pressure in several ways, most notably through ownership or advertising. (p. 85)
According to Bebawi (2016), the challenges to investigative journalism in Arab countries since the Arab Spring are related to the fact that investigative reporting is still under government control. Social pressure also exerts influence. Although investigative reporters have a duty to inform the public about hidden truths and other lesser-known societal developments, Arab society is often either sceptical of the changes or not comfortable with them. Thus, journalists often find themselves trapped between state control and societal mistrust. However, the image of journalism in Arab countries is changing due to citizens’ increasing demands for wider access to information.
Regarding investigative journalism in Saudi Arabia, it’s still not common there. Although the press is privately owned, the vast majority of newspapers remain subsidised and regulated by the government and tend to be subjected to strict censorship (BBC, 2015; El Gody, 2007; Rugh, 2004). Even the private press remains loyal to the government, which has the power of the constitution and can influence the press through both legal and financial means and incentives (Rugh, 2004).
It can be said that the lack of investigative journalism in Saudi Arabia is partly due to government interference and domination of the media. Saudi newspapers don’t dedicate space to investigative stories or employ journalists specialising in investigative reporting, suggesting a lack of support for investigative journalism. Furthermore, there is a lack of clarity in media law, which creates difficulties for journalists wanting to do investigative reporting (Al-Nassar, 2014; Al-Shammari, 2011). Hence, there are three main obstacles that hinder investigative reporting in Saudi Arabia: political factors tied to the government’s management and domination of the media, the absence of investigative sections and investigative journalists at Saudi newspapers, and the lack of clarity in media laws (Al-Nassar, 2014).
Al-Jameeah (2006) referred to internal and external factors associated with media content. The internal factors include media ownership, financing, the political line toed by newspapers, and journalists’ qualifications. The external factors include the political and economic systems, the culture of society, and media laws and regulations. Such factors impact the nature of media content. Investigative journalism can impact the culture and attitudes of systems that it targets. This can be interpreted in the context of the Saudi political system and what it imposes on the practice of investigative journalism.
Despite the significance of investigative journalism, for the reasons cited above, it has not attracted the attention of Saudi academics and researchers. There is a paucity of studies on investigative journalism and the ways in which it is influenced by the political system. Thus, investigative journalism and the challenges it faces, particularly in relation to the political system in Saudi Arabia, remain uncharted territory.
Saudi political system and the media
In the Middle East, the political system has prevented the media from becoming a tool for advancing the interests of the public. Instead, most of the time, news media act as a mouthpiece for the government to the extent that the public has lost hope of the media ever holding government officials accountable for their actions. It is for this reason that the Arab press is called the ‘Loyalist Press’ (Rugh, 2004). For instance, the king of Saudi Arabia has the legislative and executive power to control the country. This means the king has a stronghold over media, as the government can interfere with media content by restricting it from reporting on various issues of a political nature. Al-Shamiry (1992) argues that the government of Saudi Arabia limits freedom of the press and uses strong censorship to sustain the status quo, and the stability of the country. Rugh (2004) believes that the Saudi press is restricted from reporting crucial foreign-policy issues, among others.
The Saudi Arabian ‘Basic Law’ (the Constitution) stipulates clear goals for the media, which mainly focus on educating the populace and nurturing national unity:
Mass media and all other vehicles of expression shall employ civil and polite language, contribute toward the education of the nation and strengthen unity. It is prohibited to commit acts leading to disorder and division, affecting the security of the state and its public relations, or undermining human dignity and rights (Bureau of Experts at the Council of Ministers, 1992).
On this basis, the Saudi press remains independent as long as it doesn’t interfere in anything that the government considers to be against the general welfare, as this might undermine its authority. Thus, anything the government deems as having the potential to cause turbulence and friction between it and citizens, or anything that might influence people’s sense of duty toward their country, religion, or the community at large, can be stifled by the government (Awad, 2010; Rugh, 2004). Rugh (2004) stated that Saudi newspapers are not likely to publish any material that criticises the religion of Islam or the royal family. For instance, one of the editors of Al-Madina newspaper in Saudi Arabia was sacked in March 2002 for publishing a report in which he criticised Islamic judges, calling them ‘corrupt’. Moreover, the Ministry of Culture and Information also has the power to close newspapers, and this makes newspapers fearful of crossing the line. The government is, thus, able to censor the daily content of newspapers, both directly and indirectly: ‘A phone call from the Ministry of Information is usually enough to persuade an editor to emphasise one story or downplay another’ (Rugh, 2004, p. 72).
The government certifies the appointment of national newspapers’ editors in chief. This power strengthens its influence over editorial policies at these newspapers – influence already buttressed by its allocation of funding to these newspapers. Furthermore, most broadcast media, including TV and radio, are owned and controlled by the government, which is also the main advertiser in broadcast media, although there are other minor advertisers. The government has the power to terminate the employment contracts of editors or members of staff working for broadcast media if they violate government guidelines. The director general of the Al-Ikhbaria TV channel, Mohammed Al-Tonesi, was dismissed for criticising the government in a live debate with a viewer on the phone. Additionally, the government monitors and censors the content of webpages, and the public is warned against accessing certain websites due to their political content. Therefore, it can be said that since the government controls the media to this extent, it is unlikely that the media will rebel against the government, unless the government loosens its grip on the media.
This leaves little latitude for the national press to pursue stories and publish work that contains critical or investigative aspects, since doing so would be seen as undermining national unity. Indeed, these societal goals can be interpreted in ways that highly restrict the activities of journalists (Mellor, 2011; Rugh, 2004). The Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information has jurisdiction over offences and violations of freedom of the press, which has the effect of reducing the objectivity of journalism in this area, exaggerating the roles of the editors in chief at certain Saudi newspapers, and restricting the freedom of journalists, writers, and readers to express their views. Hence, there is a tendency for journalists in Saudi Arabia to be cautious (Al-Askar, 2005). This caution motivates most journalists to exercise a high degree of self-censorship when criticising the government and prominent religious figures (AlFahad, 2015). Al-Shamiry (1992) argued that the censorship imposed by the Ministry of Culture and Information on newspapers leads to journalists self-censoring their reports. Nevertheless, the past decade or so has seen moves toward allowing some degree of criticism within the press, particularly from journalists favoured by the ruling elite (AlFahad, 2015).
Therefore, the Saudi system exerts pressure on journalists and editors in chief, making them conform by toeing the government line and adhering to the status quo. It is for this reason that Rugh (2004) said the Saudi government doesn’t really need to employ censorship a great deal, as the press is already sensitive to any issue that goes against the government’s positions. The Saudi press is self-regulated to conform with the political stance of the country. Journalists practise self-censorship out of fear of punishment by the editor in chief, Ministry of Culture and Information, or other political, religious, or social groups.
Consequently, the Saudi press has been unable to be a watchdog for the public, instead acting as a ‘cheerleader’ for the government (Al-Kahtani, 1999). For all these reasons, Saudi Arabia has been viewed from the outside as lacking freedom of the press (Freedom House Report, 2006). This makes the relationship between the government and the media complex and controversial in Saudi Arabia. The media are asked to support policies advanced by the government, but at the same time, media financiers, being close to the ruling family, can flout the laws. They finance Saudi media through advertising and subsidies. Thus, Saudi media cannot risk going against their financiers (Hallin& Mancini, 2011).
Although it has instituted several political and economic reforms regarding press freedom, the Saudi government has not done enough, as there are no clear-cut laws and regulations protecting freedom of the press. The perception of a lack of press freedom among journalists makes it easy for influential groups, particularly the government and religious leaders, to interfere with the work that journalists do. In addition, the lack of a democratic political culture in Saudi Arabia makes government interference of the press appear to be legitimate (Awad, 2010).
The effects of political systems are deemed to be more significant in less-democratic countries. However, studies have established that the obstacles and restrictions imposed on journalists by political systems differ among Arab countries. This paper has explored the impact of the political system on investigative journalism in Saudi Arabia by identifying and understanding the political challenges affecting the practice of investigative journalism in that Arab nation.
Gatekeeping theory involves deciding what is published by the media. This theory presumes that there are several gatekeepers who control processing of the news and have the authority to accept or reject news that passes through their gates. They also have the authority to modify messages so that they are in line with their attitudes and toe the political and cultural lines. It was back in 1950 when White applied gatekeeping theory to the editors of several newspapers, examining and assigning the causes and determinants of news selection for publication. This theory was developed later by researchers, such as Shoemaker et al. (2001), who proposed factors that play a role in the selection of news to be published. Among these factors are political, cultural, individual, organisational, economic, and work-routine considerations.
In this context, some Arabic studies alluded to pressures imposed on the media concerning publication and transmission of news and reports. Al-Shamiry (2001) found that 85% of Egyptian journalists admitted there are two types of censorship: self-censorship, which is exercised by journalists themselves, and censorship tied to external pressures from political or governmental systems. Despite increased openness in Saudi news media, challenges remain. Studies such as those conducted by Al-Nassar (2014) and Awad (2010) have found that Saudi media are still influenced directly by political and cultural factors, as well as professional, economic, and work-routine factors. Moreover, both types of censorship, self and institutional, are still practiced, albeit to a lesser degree due to political and social changes taking place in society, as well as the impact of digital and social media. Al-Nassar (2014) argues that political, cultural, constitutional, professional, and economic factors are among those influencing the relationship between media and political change in Arab countries.
This study uses a descriptive analytical method of data collection through a qualitative approach, based on semi-structured interviews with three editors in chief at Saudi newspapers, exploring how the political system influences investigative journalism in Saudi Arabia, as expressed through their opinions. These three newspapers were selected out of 13 newspapers published in Saudi Arabia. The choices were deliberate, as the study sample was limited. Al-Riyadh was chosen because it’s the most widely read newspaper in Saudi Arabia, Al-Hayat was chosen on the basis of its international license, and Arab News was chosen due to its being the most widely read newspaper published in English.
The interview questions are specific and seek in-depth details, although follow-up questions also were used to acquire more information about the influence of the political system on the practice of investigative journalism in Saudi Arabia. The interviews provided a deeper understanding of participants’ knowledge and responses (Brinkmann, 2014), as well as an understanding of their world, based on their perceptions and experiences (Roulston, 2013).
The interviews employed three main questions:
- What is the status of investigative journalism in Saudi Arabia?
- What are the challenges encountering investigative journalism?
- How does the political system influence the practice of investigative journalism?
The names of the editors in chief interviewed for this study were not mentioned to encourage them to speak more candidly about the subject of the study. The results of the study have been presented according to the following themes based on the study questions:
The concept and reality of investigative journalism in Saudi newspapers
This study sought to identify the concept of investigative journalism in Saudi newspapers and the nature of its practice. There has been a disparity in the description of the concept and reality of the practice of investigative journalism in Saudi Arabia. Al-Riyadh editor-in-chief points out that investigative journalism is an in-depth professional practice that explores root causes, issues, problems, and events. It seeks to find solutions to these problems and expand the professional practice of the Saudi press. Al-Hayat editor-in-chief says investigative journalism in the kingdom has no concept and no mechanism applied. The most important requirements of investigative journalism are transparency and the availability of sources of information. Since these requirements are not available in Saudi Arabia, the journalist is left with inadequate access to the material he seeks. Some Saudi newspapers have tried to publish some investigations, but they were not judgmental. Arab News editor-in-chief said the concept of investigative journalism is a weak concept in Saudi Arabia and that investigative journalism does not exist in Saudi Arabia as it does in the Western world. Moreover, journalists do not like to expose people, especially perpetrators. There is a scarcity of Saudi journalists with the ability to search, investigate, and work in the field to conduct a documented investigation, as is done in the West. The Arab News said Saudi newspapers rely on the policies of the editor, but that some are not very efficient, while most are afraid of publishing investigative reports, e.g., the Ministry of Culture and Information was asked to fire the press editor of the newspaper for conducting a survey on domestic servants and maids.
Challenges faced by investigative reporters in Saudi Arabia
This question sought to identify the most salient challenges faced by Saudi newspapers in carrying out investigative journalism. The responses of the newspapers were different from those obtained in the study, but focused on the main obstacles facing this type of journalism. Riyadh newspaper pointed out that Saudi newspapers face a big problem in investigative journalism. The investigative journalist faces the challenge of a very large political influence — the most challenging factor these reporters face. Newspapers generally avoid investigating sensitive issues in society, such as drug abuse among women and homosexuality, as they reflect on the values and culture of society. Thus, the newspapers try to balance leaders’ opinions and their desire for a consensus agenda on many investigative issues and avoid negative rifts. Fear of losing their jobs makes editors reluctant to publish some of their investigations. The legal dimension is the other major factor, restricting editors and investigative reporters from delving into the roots of the problem.
Arab News reported that ‘fear’ is the most important factor influencing investigative journalism because the results of the investigations may not be satisfactory to some people. For instance, one of the editors was asked to conduct investigations on the environmental effects of the Jeddah floods, but refused to conduct the investigation because of his fear of government reprisals. Insufficient funds, a lack of investigative journalists, and poor salaries have negatively affected the practice of investigative journalism.
Al Hayat newspaper said investigative journalism requires professionalism and high-level networks of relationships that help these journalists access the information needed, which most journalists working in Saudi Arabia lack. With the investigative press posing a danger in lieu of the media being a situation of anarchy, perhaps a case against newspapers is being raised by the parties in the investigation.
The influence of the political system on the practice of investigative journalism
Government influence on the press is considered a significant factor in investigative journalism. Al Riyadh‘s editor in chief categorised the political factor as the most important factor influencing investigative journalism. Sometimes the journalist’s efforts in identifying the root causes of the problem are in vain because of this. The appointment of editors in chief is done only with the approval of the government. Arab News said media companies do not help the investigative press because of the large number of directives prohibiting writing and publishing certain items, along with the absence of clear rules and regulations on what can be printed, as the government continually tries to control the work of the press. For example, during the 2012 Olympics, newspapers were banned from writing about the participation of Saudi women in the Olympic Games. Moreover, when Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait in 1990, Saudi newspapers were not allowed to write about the event until three days later. Arab News reported, ‘Some officials in the Ministry of Culture and Information believed that the newspapers under their command want to control them in their own sense’.
Al-Hayat’s editor in chief said the powers vested in him have been misused. In addition, information systems do not help provide integrated press articles. Although Al-Hayat is an international newspaper, there are red lines that it cannot cross, which are related to religion or the royal family. Hence, an investigation cannot be conducted concerning these two spheres. Investigations also can’t be done on countries that have a good relationship with Saudi Arabia.
Based on this study, the results did not touch on the professional and legal dimensions of the concept of investigative journalism in the West, nor did they have a mechanism in place. The most important tool for the investigative press is the requirement of transparency and the availability of sources of information. Due to the unavailability of these sources of information in Saudi Arabia, the journalist gains only little access to the material. Also, the journalist does not focus on the roles of the press, such as the role of watchdog. This can be explained by the fact that the Saudi print press has not used this new concept in the press in such a way that it sets specific definitions, precise rules, and clear working procedures in line with internationally known definitions. This also indicates that it is not disseminated as required and has not yet reached the polling stage as required. The study also reveals that there is a lack of legal dimensions in the concept of investigative journalism, in reference to the fact that the laws on publishing content and information governing the work of newspapers and journalists in Saudi Arabia do not clearly delineate the limits on journalists’ work, such as the Freedom of Information Act or the limits on submissions to Saudi newspapers. The editor in chief of Riyadh pointed out that the dimensions of the law on investigative journalism deepen the roots of the problem because of the fear of legal repercussions. This is consistent with some studies that indicate media difficulty in understanding media laws in Saudi Arabia (Al-Shebeili 2000, Al Nassar 2014). This explains the relationship between the media and government agencies — especially that of Saudi newspapers — although being civil institutions, they are under the supervision of the state in their organisational and administrative aspects. This goes along with the findings of some studies such as Zahrani (2015) and Martin (2010), which point out that the political authorities control the media, which publishes newspapers in the Arab homeland.
This study on investigative journalism describes the challenges faced by Saudi newspapers, and the gatekeeper theory conveys that the work of the investigation requires the disclosure of facts and that diving into files and information and the role of verification and investigation lead to the emergence of several professional and non-professional factors. The political factor is the most important factor influencing the practice of investigative journalism. The results of this study indicate the difficulties the media face, as well as the reduction in governmental hegemony over the media and the recognition of the media’s role as a voice for the public, which may be consistent with Al-Nassar’s study (2014). This affirms that the Saudi press does not exercise its role, as it’s isolated from the political system, which is protected by laws and regulations that restrain the media.
The results of the study indicate that the practice of investigative journalism is dangerous to those working in Saudi media. In addition, the lack of legal clarity in news media has led to the presence of a state of fear among reporters and editors. Government officials were given free rein over newspapers. Although this factor is linked to the political factor, it is clear that the absence of clarity in media laws makes it difficult for newspapers to conduct investigative journalism based on internationally adopted definitions. Also, the results of the study indicate a need to establish special investigative sections and to hire reporters that specialise in investigative reporting to overcome obstacles in the practice of investigative journalism. This suggests that the concept of investigation has not received sufficient attention in the print press so far. Moreover, the values and culture of Saudi society also exert influence over the practice of investigative journalism. Al-Riyadh newspaper specifically pointed out that newspapers avoid investigating sensitive issues in society, such as drug abuse among women, homosexuality, and religious issues. Al-Riyadh newspaper reported on the influence of pressure groups as a force with strong influence within society. Therefore, newspapers are trying to strike a balance between the desires of opinion leaders — who want a consensus agenda on many issues, events, and problems – and the aims of the investigative press. Thus, newspapers avoid engaging in battles that negatively affect them. This factor may be associated with the values and culture of society. This confirms the findings of Bebawi (2016), that Arabic societies are always skeptical of change. Hence, journalists find themselves caught between government control and community distrust.
It’s clear that Saudi newspapers, although controlled by restrictions in their professional practice, now have more freedom as a result of the influence of social media, which have raised the ceiling of freedom, though they are still subject to the attitudes and positions of the political system and cannot overcome them. This has led to a lack of investigative reporting in the Saudi press. Al-Hayat pointed out that investigative journalists have no concept or an applied mechanism on the environment in Saudi Arabia, which is not designed to accept such a mechanism.
Responding to the questions of the study, it is clear that there are differences among newspapers. The study included Al Riyadh newspaper reflecting on to what extent newspapers are linked to the political system and society, being a newspaper that is locally licensed and acting as a spokesman for the government. Al-Hayat, which is one of the Saudi-owned newspapers printed in Saudi Arabia and licensed in the United Kingdom, has come out with a more comprehensive description of the realities of investigative journalism in Saudi Arabia. It also has explored many subjects from an investigative standpoint (Rugh, 2004). Arab News, which is printed in English, focused on the lack of professional investigative staff and highlighted differences between Saudi and Western media.
This study indicates that investigative journalism in Saudi newspapers has not yet reached an advanced stage of maturity and practice. Their investigative work suffers from political, professional, and legal obstacles. This study reveals the need to pay attention to this type of journalism in the Saudi press, especially the restrictions that affect the performance of the press. Saudi newspapers should pursue issues such as corruption and other serious problems suffered by society, unlike in the past, when these issues were considered sensitive topics that the press should avoid. Despite political obstacles, if Saudi newspapers adopt a truly dedicated investigative approach, fueled by modern communication technology that includes online social media, it might lead to a better communication landscape.
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