Banned Barbie: Censorship Law in Oman

The world of artistic expression and censorship are often found at crossroads in various parts of the world, owing to differing cultural, religious, and societal norms. One recent subject of these crossroads is the 2023 live-action movie ‘Barbie’, based on the globally recognised Barbie dolls by Mattel. While this film has gained significant popularity worldwide, it has also been banned in several countries, including countries in the GCC. Oman has yet to clarify its stance on ‘Barbie’, but anticipation is growing about potential prohibitions, given the precedent established by neighbouring GCC countries. This blog post will provide an overview of Omani law in the area of movie censorship, the government entity responsible for censorship, and the legal mechanisms for challenging censorship decisions.

In Oman, censorship is governed by the Law on the Censorship of Artistic Works promulgated by Royal Decree 65/97 , which—as the name suggests—provides the legal framework for the censorship of all forms of audio, visual, and audiovisual artistic works, including movies. Under this law, it is not permitted to display or perform regulated works without a licence from the Ministry of Information, which has the right under article 2 of the law to censor any work with the aim of protecting public order, public morals, and higher state interests.

In accordance with article 6 of the law, the activity of censorship of artistic works is to be undertaken by a specific department in the Ministry of Information, and article 7 allows the ministry to establish a committee of external specialists to assist the ministry in its censorship decisions. It is not clear if such a committee has been established or not. The ministry has the right to censor the whole artistic work or just a part of it.

The law offers a grievance mechanism that can be used to appeal the censorship decisions made by the ministry under article 20 of the law. Under this mechanism, it is permitted for a person concerned with the censorship decision to submit a grievance to a grievance committee established by a decision by the minister. Such grievances must be submitted within 15 days of the receipt of the censorship decision, and the committee must respond to such grievances within 30 days from the date of receiving the grievance.

Violating the provisions of the censorship can be deemed a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment for up to 2 years and a fine up to 2,000 Rial Omani. The ministry also has the right to order the suspension of the display of the artistic work, the closure of the venue in which the violation took place, and the seizure of the offending works.

It is worth noting that article 30 of the law stipulates that the provisions of this law do not apply to works imported for personal use.

The status of the Barbie movie in Oman is still unclear, but if this movie is to be banned, this would not be the first time a high-profile mainstream movie is banned in the country. For example, the movie “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” was not screened in cinemas in Oman, presumably due to the fact that it contained some transgender themes. It is possible that the Barbie movie will receive the same fate as the Spider-Man movie due to transgender and other themes that are deemed by the Ministry of Information as being incompatible with Omani societal norms and culture.

You can learn more about censorship law in Oman by reading the Law on the Censorship of Artistic Works in English in full on the link below: