Saudi Arabia to Host Media Forum One Year After Khashoggi Murder
“The murder of Jamal Khashoggi caused extensive damage to Saudi Arabia’s international image, marking a real low point for a country that has one of the world’s worst press freedom records.”
Saudi Arabia will stage a two-day media forum at the end of November, in conjunction with the Saudi Media Awards, the Saudi Journalists’Association (SJA) announced.
The forum titled “Media Industry: Opportunities and Challenges” will discuss the challenges faced with the modern media industry and present awards, as Middle East Eye reported. The event will invite local and international journalists and media professionals.
SJA Chief Khalid bin Hamed Al-Malik said the forum aims to boost the country’s reputation as the Arabs’ media capital and its image in the international community.
“The media’s role is essential and influential. This forum will open the way for further discussions, put forward views about the media industry in general and create a dialogue with others to better understand global and regional practices,” Al-Malik told ArabNews.
Criticism of Saudi Media Forum
Some view the conference harshly because of the oil-rich nation’s poor press freedom reputation and the killing of the outspoken journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, Turkey, last October. The tragedy remains shrouded in mystery despite a United Nations (U.N.) report that said Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman (MBS) was behind the murder.
Khashoggi’s murder was listed among the One Free Press Coalition’s report of the most urgent press freedom cases of 2019. Despite the international condemnation of Khashoggi’s murder and both a U.N. and CIA report linking MBS to the incident, no independent investigation has been carried out. The White House ignored the call for the release of the CIA report, and President Donald Trump has insisted that MBS was not involved in the murder.
Saudi Arabia does not have an independent free press, and the country has detained bloggers and journalists critical of the royal family. Just last April, the press freedom watchdog group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), disclosed it held a secret meeting with Saudi officials to push for the release of 30 jailed journalists. The Paris-based group advocated that the release of the 30 journalists could help pave the way for a Riyadh G-20 presidency, as it will host the annual meeting in 2020.
“The murder of Jamal Khashoggi caused extensive damage to Saudi Arabia’s international image, marking a real low point for a country that has one of the world’s worst press freedom records. A signal of strong political will from the Saudi government is now needed for this damage to begin to be repaired, and we believe that can only be accomplished by serious measures such as the release of all jailed journalists in the country,” RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire stated.
Saudi Arabia is at the bottom of the RSF’s annual Press Freedom Index and was ranked at 172 out of 180 countries in the 2019 index.
Saudi Arabia Buys into UK Media
In the last two years a prominent Saudi investor, Sultan Muhammad Abuljayadel, bought a 30 percent stake in two British media outlets, The Evening Standard and The Independent. The sale prompted British culture minister Jeremy Wright to call for an investigation into the transaction.
Russian businessman Evgeny Lebedev, who controls both media companies, sold the 30 percent share to an offshore company in the Cayman Islands owned by Abuljayadel in 2017 and 2018.
A U.K. government attorney claimed that Saudi control over both media corporations could affect the neutrality of the outlets, adding that the merger has “public interest considerations.” The U.K.’s Department of Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS) reported the transactions “needed to be investigated.”
“What is of concern to Her Majesty’s government is that a foreign state could be acquiring a substantial stake in Lebedev Holdings [owner of The Evening Standard] and The Independent simultaneously,” David Scannell, the U.K. government’s attorney, told a U.K. court, as The Guardian reported.
Saudi Arabia’s control over both media organizations is especially worrying to the U.K. given the country’s poor track record in press rights.