Saudi Arabia Bans Two Television Talk Shows

Saudi authorities banned two new talk shows this week in a step that renewed concerns about tolerance for freedom of expression in the kingdom.

Moderate cleric Salman al-Odah said Thursday on Twitter that he was informed by the newly established General Authority for Audio and Visual Media that his show “You Have Rights” has been banned. Two days earlier, a talk show called “140” on the conservative al-Majd channel was also banned.

Al-Odah is a well-known preacher who recently called on the government to begin implementing reforms or risk facing a wave of popular anger on Saudi streets. In an open letter published online last March al-Odah said current government policies could lead to disastrous consequences.

“People here, like people around the world, have demands, longings and rights, and they will not remain silent forever when they are denied all or some of them,” al-Odah said. “When one becomes hopeless, you can expect anything from them.”

This is not the first time for al-Odah to have his television show banned. In 2011, al-Odah’s weekly talk show broadcasted by the MBC network was terminated after he expressed favorable views of the Arab uprisings.

Al-Odah is widely considered as one of the most popular clerics in the country. He was detained in the mid-1990s when he helped mobilize an Islamist opposition against the government. After he was release in 1999, his views have become more moderate. This shift towards moderation helped him attract a large following, especially among young Saudis.

In a related development, two sources said the host of another talk show was banned. Abdullah al-Modifer, who hosts the daily “Fi al-Sameem” show on Rotana Khalejia, did not appear in the seat that he has occupied everyday for the past two weeks as host of the show. The two sources requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak about the case.

The latest episode of the daily show was aired on Thursday with a different host.