New documents released by international transparency organization Wikileaks have exposed a massive propaganda program by Saudi Arabia to influence the international media attention the country receives.
The documents show the repressive state paying large sums to western media outlets to have incidents of Saudi human rights abuses and other reprehensible behavior missed or purposefully avoided by the media.
Earlier this year the country paid large sums to bury the beheadings of 100 prisoners, which was widely condemned by human rights groups.
Saudi Arabia takes particular care when it comes to keeping up an internationally positive image, monitoring world media closely, and purchasing loyalty from other countries, including many in the West.
The documents obtained by Wikileaks show strong efforts to control the media and alter any unwanted information or distribution in Arab coverage. They utilize “neutralization” and “containment” methods, according to the leaked papers.
Any negative media is neutralized, and the word is included in cables in reference to journalists who may have been silenced with money. These “neutralized” media outlets simply avoid publishing any bad press or criticism of the Arab country’s people or policies. Containment includes praising the Kingdom, and being involved in attacks on anyone who criticizes the country.
These methods are sometimes enacted through the purchase of subscriptions in specific publications. The expectation is that these publications will do something in return, and become an ally in Saudi propaganda. These subscriptions, requiring renewal by January 1, 2010, were listed in a document, and the monetary values ranged from $500 to $33,000. The Kingdom purchases reverse “shares”, and in return Saudi Arabia gets political help from the press.
This sort of arrangement can be seen between the Saudi Foreign Ministry and its Embassy in Cairo. In, 2011 Egypt’s ONTV hosted Saad al-Faqih, a man in opposition to the Saudi government. The Foreign Ministry then had someone investigate the channel, and find out how “to co-opt it or else we must consider it standing in the line opposed to the Kingdom’s policies.” The station owner, Naguib Sawiris, told the station “never to host al-Faqih again.”
When “neutralization” and “containment” fail, the Saudi Ministry moves on to confrontation. For example, the Foreign Minister was to remove Al-Alam, Iran’s Arabic news network, after a Royal Decree in 2010. When that did not work, Saud Al Faisal tried to “weaken its broadcast signal”, showing that the country will go to military means to achieve control over unfavorable media outlets.
Other examples of the Saudis use of questionable methods to influence media coverage of the repressive nation can be seen in WikiLeaks’ Saudi Cables here.