Despite Kuwait’s reputation as the Gulf’s least repressive country, the government headed by Emir Nawaf Al-Sabah exercises a great deal of control over news and information.
The media landscape is dominated by the traditional newspapers Al-Qabas, Al-Jarida and Al-Siyasa, which are not very critical of the government. Thanks to podcasts such as Bidun Waraq and independent digital magazines such as Manshoor, the media world has undergone a degree of democratisation but state-controlled information still holds sway.
The government exercises a significant degree of control over information, and freedom of expression remains limited, although many members of Kuwait's opposition in exile were recently pardoned. Some media outlets – such as Al-Watan TV in 2015 – have been closed for “anti-government” comments.
The 2020 right to access information law is supposed to guarantee the work of journalists in Kuwait. But, in practice, the law is thwarted by censorship laws that prohibit journalists, bloggers and online activists from criticising the government, the emir, the ruling family, its allies or religion. The same is true for the cybercrime law that took effect in January 2016.
Most Kuwaiti media companies are owned by families that are members of the wealthy elite. Creating a media outlet requires applying for a government licence – an expensive and tedious process. The biggest media outlets function as communication tools for members of the private sector, who pay large sums in exchange for an article.
Many subjects are taboo in Kuwait, and it is particularly difficult for journalists to tackle migrant worker rights, women’s rights and corruption.
While Kuwait is not known for murdering or imprisoning its journalists, some have recently been forced to flee the country to avoid serving prison sentences. Interrogations and short-term detentions have a chilling effect on the freedom to inform.