Information Minister Fouad Farisi told the state-run Saudi Press Agency that the Saudi Journalists’ Association would ‘help boost the role of the press and its message and grant journalists more confidence, security and a sense of responsibility towards their country and people’. Representatives of some local media said the association was not expected to deliver greater freedom of expression but aimed more at protecting journalists.

‘This is an important step for the whole kingdom and not only media. It is a first step to establish civil institutional society,’ said Jamal Khashoggi, deputy editor-in-chief of the Arab Times newspaper.

Officials have publicly urged the media to act as a public watchdog, but the government sacked three editors last year after they printed ‘unacceptable’ material.

Newspaper editors have recently started writing on topics considered taboo a few years ago, including articles on Saudi-born Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda network.