State of the media

Kuwait boasts some of the most open and pluralistic media environments in the Arab world. Kuwait media are often very critical in their reports on politics and the government. Journalists enjoy greater freedoms than some of their regional counterparts, but still exercise self-censorship in matters related to the Emir and religion. Also, the Ministry of Information censors publications deemed to be morally or politically inappropriate.

William A. Rugh’s in his Arab Mass Media (2004) characterizes Kuwait media as a “diverse press.” Its distinguishing characteristic is that “the newspapers are clearly different from each other in content and apparent political tendency as well as in style.” Furthermore, they tend to be privately owned and reflect a variety of viewpoints.

Written press
Kuwait has seven daily newspapers (five in Arabic and two in English), and a larger number of weeklies. The number of dailies and periodicals could increase due to the lifting of a 30-year ban on issuing licenses for daily newspapers in the 2006 press law. Licenses for newspapers are issued by the Ministry of Information, and publishing houses are required to have a minimum of nearly one million US dollar to apply for a license.

Audiovisual media

Kuwait Television is the national broadcaster. It operates four domestic channels and two satellite channels. It is part of the Ministry of Information. In 2003 state monopoly on broadcasting was lifted and a number of private broadcasters have emerged since then. Satellite dishes are widely used and pan-Arab TV stations are popular. State broadcaster Radio Kuwait operates a number of channels in both Arabic and English. Following the lifting of the state broadcast monopoly in 2003, the first private radio station emerged in 2005, Marina FM.

Online media

Since the introduction of Internet in the 1990s the number of internet users has grown rapidly to more than 600,000. Internet services are provided by a number of private companies. The state forces Internet service providers to install and operate censorship systems to block pornographic, anti-religion, anti-tradition, or anti-security websites. Internet providers are regulated by the Ministry of Communication.
Internet Cafés are strictly controlled and users have to provide personal information in order to be allowed to use the Internet. The Kuwaiti government claims that these restrictions are meant to protect the public by maintaining both public order and morality. Most of the written press, and audiovisual media have Internet websites. Kuwait furthermore boasts a very active and influential Internet community; especially blogging is very popular.

News agencies
The Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) was founded in 1979 by Emiri Decree. Board members are nominated by the Ministry of Information and appointed by the Cabinet.

Media organizations

Kuwait Journalists Association was established in 1964. Its aim is to strengthen relations between Kuwaiti and Arab journalists, portray Kuwait honestly via journalism, and defend members' rights and promote “good journalism.” In 2007 the association held elections for a seven-member board. It was the first time newcomers challenged the incumbent board members. The Association is an associate member of the International Federation of Journalists.

The main human rights organizations in Kuwait are the Kuwait Society for Human Rights, established in the 1990s but only licensed as recently as 2004, and the Kuwaiti Bidoon Human Rights Organization, which was born as an Internet-based, independent, nonprofit, non-governmental organization.

Media policies

The Kuwaiti media is regulated by the 2006 Press Law. The law ended the government moratorium on licenses for the media. Furthermore, it prevents cancellation of a license, suspension of a newspaper or detention of a journalist without a court order. However, the law retains prison sentences ranging from one year to life imprisonment for offences such as blasphemy pertaining to “God, the Prophets, ahl al bayt, the wives of the Prophet, or the basis of the Islamic faith,” calls for toppling the regime, by force or “illegitimate means,” or insulting the Emir of Kuwait. In addition fines may be applied ranging from $17,000 – $70, 000 US Dollars. The law also allows suspension of newspapers during investigations for a period of a maximum of two weeks, on the condition that there is a court order. A positive point is that journalists cannot be jailed while under investigation for an alleged offence, and a only a judge can order a journalist’s imprisonment.

Media developments and trends

The new press law contains a number of progressive elements that is seen to strengthen the independent press. Compared to media legislation in the region, it is one of the most liberal. Journalist groups, however, have commented that the law was inadequate in certain areas, adding that they preferred the old law. While it seems that Kuwait’s government is willing to support independent media, granting more press freedom to the media is strongly opposed by Islamist parliamentarians, who continue to argue for stricter media regulations.