Self-censorship is the rule in this peaceful sultanate, where criticism of Sultan Haitham bin Tariq or his cousin and predecessor, Qabus ibn Said, are unacceptable.
The independent press is targeted as soon as it becomes too interested in sensitive matters, such as corruption. Between 2016 and 2021, political pressure forced the few independent and critical newspapers, Azamn and Al-Balad, and the online magazine Muwatin, to shut down or suspend operations.
Omani journalism is marked by overwhelmingly positive coverage that aims to deliver a glowing image of the country. Reporters limit themselves to information provided by governmental and private institutions. Any form of criticism is frowned upon.
Freedom of expression and of the press are guaranteed by the Constitution, but the penal code limits them severely. Any content judged “insulting” to the royal family, the government, Islam, the country’s economy, or, simply, tradition results in the conviction of the writer (a fine or prison sentence). Authorization from the ministry of information is required to work as a journalist.
Most media are financed by government advertising. The government regularly organises press tours and even hosts events that promote journalism, which are opportunities to invite media professionals from all over the world. These events serve to publicise the sultanate’s history and culture and to present its economic development strategy plan, entitled “Vision 2040”.
“Proper morals” are required for authorisation by the Ministry of Information to work as a journalist. When journalists criticise religion or the ruling family, they can be condemned morally by their peers, who consider this violation deserving of sanction.
Journalists and bloggers are frequently arrested, sometimes detained in secret and sentenced to prison on charges including insulting the head of state, or the country’s culture or traditions, inciting illegal demonstrations, or disturbing public order. Advocating for environmental protection or the safeguarding of nature reserves is considered highly sensitive for journalists.