WikiLeaks: Saudi trying to stop Iran’s Al-Alam TV

Kuwait, June 21, IRNA – Secret documents released by WikiLeaks show that Saudi Arabia has been trying to stop Iran’s Arabic news network Al-Alam TV.

The site published a letter by the Saudi foreign minister on the need to stop Iran’s Al-Alam news network from broadcasting via Arabsat.

In a story titled “Buying Silence: How the Saudi Foreign Ministry controls Arab media”, the site said: “On Monday, Saudi Arabia celebrated the beheading of its 100th prisoner this year. The story was nowhere to be seen on Arab media despite the story’s circulation on wire services. Even international media was relatively mute about this milestone compared to what it might have been if it had concerned a different country. How does a story like this go unnoticed?

Today’s release of the WikiLeaks ‘Saudi Cables’ from the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs show how it’s done.

The oil-rich Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its ruling family take a systematic approach to maintaining the country’s positive image on the international stage. Most world governments engage in PR campaigns to fend off criticism and build relations in influential places. Saudi Arabia controls its image by monitoring media and buying loyalties from Australia to Canada and everywhere in between.

Documents reveal the extensive efforts to monitor and co-opt Arab media, making sure to correct any deviations in regional coverage of Saudi Arabia and Saudi-related matters. Saudi Arabia’s strategy for co-opting Arab media takes two forms, corresponding to the ‘carrot and stick’ approach, referred to in the documents as ‘neutralisation’ and ‘containment’. The approach is customised depending on the market and the media in question.

‘Contain’ and ‘Neutralise’

The initial reaction to any negative coverage in the regional media is to ‘neutralise’ it. The term is used frequently in the cables and it pertains to individual journalists and media institutions whose silence and co-operation has been bought. ‘Neutralised’ journalists and media institutions are not expected to praise and defend the Kingdom, only to refrain from publishing news that reflects negatively on the Kingdom, or any criticism of its policies. The ‘containment’ approach is used when a more active propaganda effort is required. Journalists and media institutions relied upon for ‘containment’ are expected not only to sing the Kingdom’s praises, but to lead attacks on any party that dares to air criticisms of the powerful Gulf state.

One of the ways ‘neutralisation’ and ‘containment’ are ensured is by purchasing hundreds or thousands of subscriptions in targeted publications. These publications are then expected to return the favour by becoming an ‘asset’ in the Kingdom’s propaganda strategy.”

It went on to stress that “The ‘neutralisation’ and ‘containment’ approaches are not the only techniques the Saudi Ministry is willing to employ. In cases where ‘containment’ fails to produce the desired effect, the Kingdom moves on to confrontation. In one example, the Foreign Minister was following a Royal Decree dated 20 January 2010 to remove Iran’s new Arabic-language news network, Al-Alam, from the main Riyadh-based regional communications satellite operator, Arabsat. After the plan failed, Saud Al Faisal sought to ‘weaken its broadcast signal’.

“This is a general overview of the Saudi Foreign Ministry’s strategy in dealing with the media. WikiLeaks’ Saudi Cables contain numerous other examples that form an indictment of both the Kingdom and the state of the media globally.”

WikiLeaks on Friday began publishing more than half a million top-secret documents from Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry, including communications from Saudi embassies across the globe, information from other state institutions, and correspondence with foreign entities, the US-based Commondreams news website said.

“While analysts have not yet pored through the documents, the files are poised to expose the Saudi government, whose atrocious human rights record is being put on display with its ongoing bombing and blockade of Yemen. They could also shed light on the relationships between Saudi Arabia and its close allies throughout the region and world, including the United States,” the website said.

WikiLeaks said that the massive trove of cables will be published in bunches of tens of thousands over the next few weeks. As of Friday, at least 61,205 documents had been published, with more troves expected in coming days. The cables are being hosted on an online database and can be searched here.