Snapchat blocks Al Jazeera in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia asks Snap Inc to remove Al Jazeera Discover Publisher Channel in the kingdom citing violation of local law.

There are about eight million Snapchat users in Saudi Arabia [File: Reuters]

Snapchat has blocked access to Al Jazeera’s news articles and videos in Saudi Arabia following a request from the government.

Saudi Arabia told the social media company that the Al Jazeera Discover Publisher Channel violated local laws.

“We make an effort to comply with local laws in the countries where we operate,” a Snapchat spokesperson said in a statement on Sunday.

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.”

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There are about eight million Snapchat users in Saudi Arabia, one of the largest audiences in the world for the social platform.

The decision to remove Al Jazeera was first reported by the Wall Street Journal on Sunday.

The conflict is the latest example of a technology company being pinned in the crosshairs of geopolitics as it navigates censorship of content on its platforms, the Wall Street Journal reported.

In March 2015, Saudi Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal, chairman of Kingdom Holding Company (KHC), received Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel in Saudi Arabia to discuss “future potential business cooperation with Snap”.

However, it remains unclear whether KHC ever invested in the company.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and imposed sanctions on the country on June 5. They also blocked their residents’ access to Al Jazeera websites.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies