February 13, 2004 Special Dispatch No. 662

Saudi Payments for Foreign Journalists

February 13, 2004
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 662

Ina column published in the Saudi daily Al-Watan, columnist Abdallah Nasser Al-Fawzan criticizes Saudi payments given to foreign journalists in order to write pro-Saudi media reports. The following are excerpts from the column : [1]

Bribing Journalists – A Rumor or the Sad Truth?

"For quite some time I have been hearing rumors that we [the Saudis] are paying journalists in Arab and non-Arab capitals, and that these payments are not in the hundreds of thousands but in the millions. I did not believe it, because first of all it was in complete contradiction to our ethics, our values and dignity, our self-respect, and our reverence to our nation and country. Secondly, I found nothing in the publications abroad about the Kingdom [of Saudi Arabia] that justified such practices. [In fact] there has been an Arab regime that used to pay [journalists], and that was manifested clearly in media publications about it. For example, we remember the media festivals organized by Arab media outfits [to hail] this regime and we remember the odd propaganda efforts on its behalf. But when it comes to comparing ourselves with that regime we deserve epic poems of praise … because we find no evidence to the [bribery] rumors. Furthermore, sometimes we are the target of organized media attacks and we do need support, but no one comes forward to speak up for us, which gives the impression that we don't pay anyone.

"Such was my impression, and that is why the rumors did not sink in and did not leave me any reason for further contemplation. But the rumors persisted, and two days ago I was surprised by a trustworthy Saudi journalist and a media personality with considerable credence, Mr. Turki Al-Sudairi, editor-in-chief of the Saudi daily Al-Riyadh, who published an article that changed my mind about the rumors I heard, and made me reconsider them seriously."

The Need for 'a Home-Grown Strong and Honest Media'

"In his regular column 'Meeting,' published last Monday [2] … he talked about our dire need for a home-grown strong and honest media, free of domestic and social shackles, able to stand up to other provocative and destructive media, rather than having to rely on crippled and suppliant foreign media… Mr. Al-Sudairi went on to say that: 'Having a crippled and suppliant media cannot benefit us,' and he added even more bluntly that 'we have had the most bizarre relationship with newspapers in other Arab countries … which to this time receive annual payments and subsidies, although they are insignificant in their own countries, let alone in the Arab world…'"

The Price for Silence

"I said at the beginning of this article that for various reasons I used to dismiss what I heard about paying Arab journalists… And although I do not support such payments under any circumstances, it would [be safe to] assume that they were given in exchange for taking certain positions and for defending us from attacks. However, this did not happen. On the contrary, the opposite has sometimes occurred.

"Mr. Al-Sudairi confirms that payments were made, but why haven't we seen the desired effect? Mr. Al-Sudairi provided a heartbreaking answer in his article. He said that those who receive payments from us 'do not write one word to refute Western media campaigns, as if the payments are made to prevent them [too] from writing against us … i.e. they are the price of their silence.

"So, the problem is far worse than just making annual payments to Arab journalists, because these payments are the 'price of silence…

"Finally Mr. Al-Sudairi said that those who receive bribes to spare us their harm do not have the ability to harm us with their words or to safeguard us with their silence. In the words of Mr. Al-Sudairi himself: 'They are insignificant ingrates … and some of them even use pseudonyms to publish articles against us.' What a shame… What a tragedy…

"I thank Mr. Turki Al-Sudairi for his obvious patriotic concern and I join him in condemning this sorry affair, and urge everyone to support him. If we are paying the price, as he said, to insignificant ingrate journalists who consider them a price for their silence, and still publish articles against us using pseudonyms, then the matter is truly scandalous and calls for investigation and proper remedies, not just for the end of the payments."

[1] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), January 14, 2004.

[2] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), January 12, 2004.

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