King Abdullah has told Saudi editors to stop publishing pictures of women as they could make young men go astray, newspapers reported Tuesday.

The king's directive, made in a meeting with local editors, caused surprise as the monarch has been regarded a quiet reformer since he took office in the ultra-conservative country last August.

In recent months, newspapers have published pictures of women -- always wearing the traditional Muslim headscarf -- to illustrate stories with increasing regularity. Usually the stories have had to do with women's issues. The papers have also started publishing a range of views on causes that are not generally accepted in Saudi Arabia -- such as women having the right to drive and vote.

CountryWatch: Saudi Arabia

The king told editors on Monday night that publishing a woman's picture for the world to see was inappropriate.

"One must think, do they want their daughter, their sister, or their wife to appear in this way. Of course, no one would accept this," the newspaper Okaz quoted Abdullah as saying.

"The youth are driven by emotion ... and sometimes they can be lead astray. So, please, try to cut down on this," he said.

Although the king has broached topics -- such as women eventually acquiring driving licenses -- that were previously seen as nonstarters, his instruction to editors indicates that Islamic conservatives remain a powerful force in the kingdom and brake on reform.

The country adheres to a strict interpretation of Islamic law. Women are not allowed to vote and stand in municipal elections -- the only type of election permitted in the kingdom.

The king also called on editors to stop printing stories that portray the country in a negative light.

"Don't write anything that can be harmful to the country. Some reporters, they want to stand out and they end up going too far and this should not be allowed to happen," Abdullah said according to Okaz.

The king added that newspapers should ignore the foreign press, especially when what it publishes is "against Islam or against Arabs."

All media in Saudi Arabia are either state owned or state guided.