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RIYADH, Aug 3:  In a step to promote tourism in the Kingdom and allow people to better understand the importance of photography and filming in promoting social and cultural development, Saudi Arabia is now officially allowing photography and filming for all citizens and residents in public areas.

Officials in the Kingdom have been asked to take the necessary measures to implement a royal decree that allows photography in public and private places as long as it does not conflict with people’s right not to be photographed.

The decree is the first of its kind to be issued on this matter in the Kingdom.

Interior Minister Prince Naif, also the chairman of the Supreme Commission for Tourism, (SCT), directed governors of the different regions in the Kingdom yesterday to begin taking the necessary measures to allow the royal decree to be implemented.

Governors of the different regions in the Kingdom will have the responsibility of announcing this to their government departments, public facilities, ministries, as well as tourist facilities.

“Organizing this...will further promote the Kingdom’s image and its tourist venues through photography in different forms. It will also serve the needs of individuals and institutes in documenting this,” the SCT announced yesterday.

It said that public photography would be allowed on the condition that it did not conflict with others’ freedom not to be photographed and that the photographer asks permission from the other party.

“It would also help the media cover events, incidents, and different occasions to better serve its responsibilities,” the statement added.

Private or public facilities that do not wish to be photographed will be obliged to place signs in view. This includes all forms of filming that include documentary filming, filming, photography and digital photography.

A committee had been earlier organized to study this matter on instructions from Crown Prince Sultan. The committee comprised two members each from the following institutes: the Presidency of the National Guard, Ministry of Defense and Aviation, Ministry of Interior, Supreme Commission of Tourism, Intelligence, as well as the Ministry of Culture and Information.

Several citizens and residents in the Kingdom welcomed the implementation of the royal decree to allow public photography.

“This is an important step so that people will know their rights and also act upon them. It will also make photography or filming more naturalized in public,” said Saleh Basalamah of Umm Al-Qura University. “Photography plays a major role in every country in terms of promoting its different aspects of landscape or social life.”

He said that the step would also make children more interested in photography and also promote photography as a profession in the Kingdom.

Another Saudi agreed that it was an important step saying that previously due to lack of a clear law, many law enforcement officers used to prevent people from taking photographs in public, even if it was a sculpture or building.

“It is a good step. It is about time we opened up,” said Waffa, a Saudi female artist. “It’s silly how we used to take photographs in the past of public things. We used to turn the lens of the camera at a different angle to include what we wanted in the picture.”

She mentioned that in her years in college, she and her colleagues were given an assignment to shoot museums and mosques.

“Some of my colleagues got in trouble when a law enforcement officer saw them take photos of the mosque from the outside. Their folks were summoned by the police,” she said.

Shakir Abu Talib, a Saudi journalist, said that the implementation of this decree would definitely help the Kingdom promote its image in media journals worldwide after an absence for decades. It would also prevent those who want to tarnish its image from doing so.

He mentioned the difficulties journalists have to endure on a daily basis to take photos in public.

“This will put an end to the difficulties journalists have to go through to get a photo for various reasons. Some of them had to do with fatwas (religious edicts) that said it was sinful to take photos, other reasons had to do with the misunderstanding from law enforcement officers,” he said.

Abu Talib recalled an incident when he was asked to take a photograph by his boss of cab drivers who had gathered at the gate of an official.

“When I got there and was about to take the shot 500 meters away from the gate, I felt someone grabbing me from my neck from behind. He did not even show any ID and dragged me to a car in front of everyone,” he said. “My ID and photo credentials were confiscated. And I remained detained for over an hour and a half. I had to sign a paper not to indulge in such act again.”

Ahmed, a foreign national living in the Kingdom, said that Saudi Arabia has beautiful landscapes as well as a rich culture that could promote its image worldwide.

“Tourism is the main industry for many countries worldwide. This is an excellent step. It will further promote Saudi Arabia’s image worldwide and make people be aware of its culture and people,” he said.


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