Reporters Without Borders condemns the decision by Kuwaiti information minister Al-Sheikh Ahmad Abdallah al-Sabah to suspend privately-owned Scope TV’s political satire programme Sawtak Wasal on 25 August after only three of an initially-scheduled series of 15 programmes had been broadcast.
The 20-minute programme, consisting of sketches that satirized Kuwaiti politicians, had been referred by the government to the department of public prosecutions but the information minister issued his ban before the department had time to reach an opinion.
“This arbitrary political decision is more than regrettable, especially as the Kuwaiti press is one of the freest in the region,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Does this herald a change in Kuwait’s position on press freedom? The banning of a programme that aimed to entertain viewers by parodying politicians has damaged its image. It is not a crime to parody. Criticism is a right, especially when it is done with humour. We urge the Kuwaiti authorities to rescind this ban.”
Launched by Kuwaiti satellite television station Scope TV on 7 July, Sawtak Wasal (Your Voice Has Arrived) was intended to entertain viewers during Ramadan. Without being named, leading parliamentarians and government ministers were imitated by actors, who played up their use of the Bedouin dialect or imperfect Arabic. One of the satirised politicians, parliamentary speaker Jassam Al-Kharafi, said he was surprised by the programme’s suspension.
Scope TV CEO Fajar Al-Saeed, the first woman to own a TV station in the Arab world, told journalists: “The decision was foreseeable but the surprise comes from the fact that only this programme was banned. If Scope TV is told to stop broadcasting its programmes, why are the series being broadcast by other TV stations not being banned as well? Although he was parodied, even Jassam Al-Kharafi thought our programme stayed with the limits of traditional criticism.”
Saeed added: “This decision is the result of irritation within a sector of the political class that has been holding the country back for 20 years. It also highlights the failure of some people to understand how a woman can be influential in the media and public opinion. Scope TV’s closure would be a way to intimidate other important satellite TV stations such as Al-Ray and Al-Watan. I would rather remain at my post than run for parliament. I am ready to push the limits in order to fulfil my goal, which is to serve Kuwaitis.”
Also called Sawt Al-Shaab (Voice of the People) by its viewers, Scope TV is outspoken in it criticism of Kuwaiti political paralysis and corruption and has so far been the target of more than 30 lawsuits.
The ban has triggered an outcry from civil society leaders and parliamentarians, who have voiced concern about this step backwards for free expression and the damage to Kuwait’s reputation in the Arab world. At the same time, it has led to self-censorship on the part of other TV stations, with Al-Watan deciding to withdraw one of its own satirical programmes.
Kuwait was ranked 61st out of 173 countries in the 2008 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
See the offending programme on YouTube: