According to the Saudi government, Al Jazeera’s Snapchat channel was breaking local laws related to published material and cyber crime. Snap also revealed that officials requested the removal of the channel from the app’s Discover section.
“We make an effort to comply with local laws in the countries where we operate,” a spokeswoman from Snap said.
Al Jazeera, which as a user of Snapchat is still permitted to post content that Saudis can view, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The TV network’s content is also still available in Saudi Arabia on Twitter (TWTR, Tech30), Facebook (FB, Tech30) and Google’s (GOOGL, Tech30) YouTube.
However, Al Jazeera Media Network’s acting Director-General Mostefa Souag denounced the move.
“We find Snapchat’s action to be alarming and worrying. This sends a message that regimes and countries can silence any voice or platform they don’t agree with by exerting pressure on the owners of social media platforms and content distribution companies. This step is a clear attack on the rights of journalists and media professionals to report and cover stories freely from around the world,” Souag said.
Morad Rayyan, head of Incubation and Innovation Research at Al Jazeera, said the move by Snapchat was “unprecedented”.
“Snapchat is a US-based company, publicly traded, and it stands for freedom of expression. We are working on contingency plans to ensure our content is available on other platforms,” Rayyan said.
“We are urging them [Snapchat] to review the decision that was made. They were the ones who invited us to be one of their news partners for the region.”
There are about eight million Snapchat users in Saudi Arabia, one of the largest audiences in the world for the social platform.
The Qatar-owned news outlet has been in the crosshairs of several governments in the region during a prolonged diplomatic dispute in the Gulf. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain broke off relations with Qatar in June over its alleged support for terrorism — a charge it denies.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE suspended the news channel and blocked Al Jazeera’s website following the fallout.
One of the conditions laid down by a coalition of countries led by Saudi Arabia for the restoration of diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar is the Shuttering of the Doha-based Al Jazeera and its affiliates which the network sees as an attempt to restrict freedom of expression in the region.
Snap said Al Jazeera’s channel is still available to Snapchat users in 14 other countries in the Middle East, among them the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain. The network also launched its daily channel on Snapchat Discover in May, an attempt to expand the reach of its Arabic content.