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Gulf Guide - Kuwait
Gulf Guide - Kuwait

Illustration: Marcelle Louw for GIJN


» Guide

Chapter 11 – Reporting Guide for Kuwait

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Media Environment

Freedom of speech in Kuwait is protected according to Articles 36 and 37 of the country’s constitution. However, that freedom is limited according to what is “specified by the law.”

Criticizing the nation’s top political leader, the Emir of Kuwait, is illegal and could lead to more than five years in prison, physical abuse, extreme interrogation, or deportation. With a new emir having taken over in 2020, it’s important to watch out for new legislation and practices related to the labor market and migration.

It is also illegal to publish work that insults Islam, the prophets, or God. Publishing work that discusses them negatively could lead to more than a $50,000 fine and a year or more in prison. Meanwhile, angering a reputable figure with powerful contacts may not be illegal, but can still get you detained or even deported. Reporters and media channels face physical harassment and threats from government officials, specifically the undercover agents from the secret intelligence service, known as Mabaheth in Kuwait.

Kuwait World Press Freedom Index Ranking

Kuwait was ranked 105th in Reporters Sans Frontières’ 2021 World Press Freedom Index, far above other Gulf countries.

The Ministry of Information censors international media for what may be considered “morally offensive” content, while Kuwait’s 2016 electronic media law imposed additional regulations on online media outlets and online news blogs — which must obtain a license — as well as social media and others. However, Kuwaiti reporters generally enjoy more social and political freedom to criticize the country’s politics than expatriate or foreign reporters do. The country enjoys the highest ranking (105th) on the 2021 World Press Freedom Index of any nation in the MENA region.

Finding and Pursuing Stories

Many organizations will be able to link you with migrant community leaders who help trafficked and other distressed workers. Kuwait’s migrant community leaders and social workers are particularly active, and can help you enter labor camps or access shelters. Meanwhile, lawyers who offer legal services to migrant workers, such as Humanitarian Foundation for Legal Aid, Kuwait Human Rights Society, or the Social Work Society can help you understand the legal environment and connect you with stories or to workers.

The following organizations work on migration issues, including:

Interviews and Meetings 

When contacting a government ministry or agency, go in person — preferably with a group — and preferably with Kuwaitis to avoid suspicion or distrust. Sharing the fact that you’re a journalist might raise suspicion, especially if you are asking for sensitive information. You might get more cooperation if you say you’re a student working on a project or university research, but keep in mind that this kind of subterfuge can pose additional ethical and security risks. Also, any information you are going to receive is most probably going to be oral, as government departments do not document all information on paper or online.

Examples of places to visit:

  • The Domestic Workers’ Department in Rumaithiya. Though you might not receive much cooperation from department employees, there’s often a long line of domestic workers waiting for their residency permits — or iqamas — to be signed off.
  • Domestic workers shelter. The government runs a shelter for domestic workers (and their children) who have escaped from their employers, usually for reasons of abuse or nonpayment.  If you aren’t able to make an appointment with the management, request the help of one of the organizations mentioned above.
  • Political figures or activists are quite accessible on social media. Members of Parliament are active users of various platforms.
  • Embassies of origin countries tend to be more cooperative with releasing information, and they’re an essential source for stories and information on laws relating to migrant workers.

With certain members of Parliament encouraging divisiveness between expats and Kuwaitis, it’s more important than ever to contribute to pluralistic discussions. Giving migrant workers a voice, fact-checking MP statements, and conducting quality investigations on the slew of migrant worker issues in Kuwait is essential. Remember that articles alone may not be the best way to reach a large audience. Consider:

  • Shooting video — blurring the interviewee’s face for privacy and safety — lets the public hear migrants speak.
  • Follow up on the story. Share how the migrant’s life has been affected, talk to their family members or their previous sponsor. Let the people know the full story.
  • Produce multimedia pieces, and content for social media platforms.
  • Share your investigations at workshops, lectures, and on TV.
  • Ask prominent Kuwaiti social media figures to share your important work to reach a wide audience. Most are willing to lend their voice.

General Reporting Tips

  • When writing about migrant issues, remember that migrants deserve a place at the center of the story.
  • Make sure to clearly explain the purpose of your discussion and obtain their consent for sharing their story.
  • If you’re hoping to write about domestic worker issues, you will not likely succeed in approaching a domestic worker with her employer. Instead, consider where those that have time off may go alone, such as religious services.
  • Note: Not all migrants will be comfortable speaking publicly to a Kuwaiti, or someone who appears to be a native of the country.

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