Saudi editor criticises ‘dereliction’ of kingdom’s media

With the escalation in regional crises against the backdrop of Iranian moves, Riyadh has been playing catch-up.
Sunday 02/12/2018
With a critical eye. Daily Saudi newspapers on display in Riyadh.   (AFP)
With a critical eye. Daily Saudi newspapers on display in Riyadh. (AFP)

LONDON - Saud al-Rayes, editor-in-chief of the Saudi and Gulf editions of Al Hayat newspaper, criticised what he said was “dereliction” by the Saudi media. He said the media failed “to fight off the organised media campaign Saudi Arabia has suffered” at the hands of outlets with private agendas.

Rayes, appearing on television programme “Ma wara’a al-hadath,” said Saudi media were “ineffectual” despite its pioneering role and that it needs a strategy to better utilise information media, particularly in terms of external communication.

“The need is more pressing now that the kingdom is seeking to open to the world and reform its image following campaigns against it after the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” he said.

Rayes’s position highlighted similar views suggesting that the media was the weakest link in Saudi Arabia’s vision of change.

“The great unity of this great country requires efficient media capable of transcending borders,” said former Shura Council member and researcher in modern history and media Mohammed al-Zulfa during a November 22 conference titled “Media and Current Challenges.”

Zulfa noted that the field of media “calls for a new dynamic that involves experts in politics, economy, culture and other sectors so as to invigorate the role of Saudi media outside the kingdom.”

Khashoggi’s killing has been in the spotlight since early October, with Saudi media struggling to focus on the larger picture. However, the shortcomings of Saudi reporting were manifest as opposed to the performance of foreign media outlets with anti-Saudi goals and interests.

Anthony Cordesman, an expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, pointed out Turkey’s exploitation of the Khashoggi case, saying: “[Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan has been quick to seize the opportunity and ‘played’ the Western media, which relies on a flood of instant news with little perspective… The Saudi side was very stupid in the way it conducted its public relations campaign as it practically begged to get negative coverage.”

Rayes said Riyadh was working through a policy that seeks to build relationships with other countries and does not need to buy votes or pens to talk about it but this does not guarantee adequate responses to some media campaigns.

“For example, Saudi Arabia has no channels that communicate with the external world using foreign languages, notably English. One cannot really rely on newspapers to communicate with the outside world because they do not reach the wider international public and social media remain better suited for internal consumption,” Rayes said.

“Western media and major newspapers have often been influenced by the rhetoric of commentators antagonistic to Saudi Arabia. The damage is compounded by the lack of a culture of repartee on the Saudi side. Saudi media are rarely up to date with statements from officials about various anti-Saudi campaigns,” he added.

Many anti-Saudi campaigns emanate from the United States, the traditional incubator of the influential media lobbies, including Israeli and Iranian interests. With the escalation in regional crises against the backdrop of Iranian moves, Riyadh has been playing catch-up. It has sought to shore up the Saudi lobby by funding research centres and institutions in the United States.

Media attacks, both written and visual, which have recently intensified in Western media, revealed shortcomings in the Saudi communication policy as well as deficiencies in the work of Saudi pressure groups in the West.

“These shortcomings can only be remedied by developing Saudi Arabia’s own communication policy through a media strategy that can prove competitive within a hostile environment,” Rayes said.