Coverage of Saudi Arabia by the western media has never been more negative and noticeably biased. Saudi Arabia is bombarded nearly on a daily basis with negative stories and critical editorial articles. Typically, foreign media coverage of this giant oil kingdom has been one-sided, but it has become systematically nastier than usual lately.
At a time when Saudi Arabia is forced to stand up to expansionist Iran and get serious about introducing badly-needed domestic reform while exuding both confidence and independence, many in the West are getting palpably mean in their coverage of the kingdom.
Since King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia came to power in January 2015 and the surprise appointment of 57-year-old Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Nayef and 30-year-old Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, the western media has not ceased in its questioning of the political stability of Saudi Arabia.
It is almost becoming conventional wisdom to lash out at the kingdom for no good reason. Saudi Arabia is insanely blamed for spreading fundamentalism, financing extremism, igniting sectarianism and it is accused of being the sole source of much instability and violence in the region. None of these loaded accusations stands up to the facts. Riyadh is also held responsible conspiratorially for keeping the price of oil artificially low. Many single out Saudi Arabia for not doing enough to help the Syrian refugees. Media stories allege that Riyadh is working behind the scenes to torpedo the nuclear deal with Iran. All of these accusations are purely fictitious.
Of course, some in the West do not like the conservative Saudi way of life. Many are unhappy with its treatment of women and ban on women driving. Others are critical of its human rights record, which admittedly is not the best, but not necessarily any worse than the human rights situation in neighbouring states. Saudi Arabia is heavily bashed these days for waging a war in Yemen without paying due attention to the geopolitical background to the conflict in the country.
The list of accusations goes on, the criticism keeps snowballing and the negative stereotyping of the people, the society and the ruling family of Saudi Arabia gets worse by the day.
Most of the negative reporting is not checked for accuracy and this is happening in the media around the world. Recent stories about Saudi instability, resilience and its domestic affairs that have been published in respected news outlets are factually wrong, but surprisingly, get front-page coverage.
No less astonishing, anyone can write a highly critical op-ed about Saudi foreign policy these days and have it instantly published with few questions about the author’s political motivations.The negative coverage of Saudi Arabia is turning into a systematic hate campaign. The ‘hate Saudi Arabia’ manifestations in the western media seem to be tacitly welcomed by officials in western capitals. It also sounds like music to US and EU companies in a rush to do business with a post-nuclear deal Iran.
Much of this ‘hate Saudi’ campaign is emanating from the newly active Iranian lobby organisations in the West, especially in Washington. The National Iranian American Council (NIAC), which maintains close links to both the White House and the Rouhani regime in Tehran, is busy selling the post-nuclear deal to the American public, but seems to be hyperactively blaming Saudi Arabia for the rise of extremism and sectarianism and for everything that is wrong with the Middle East today. The NIAC message is simple: love Rouhani’s Iran and trust Tehran, not Riyadh, as the next true ally of the West in the global fight against terrorism.
The ‘love Iran’ and ‘hate Saudi Arabia’ camps are intrinsically linked as the two faces of the same media campaign that has forgotten history and is confused about what Iran and Saudi Arabia really stand for. Media cohorts in the West need to be reminded that Saudi Arabia, not Iran, has a proven record of being a reliable partner of the West for the past 65 years. Time and again the kingdom has lived up to its promises when it comes to the oil market, commercial ties, intelligence sharing, strategic cooperation and more. It is Riyadh, not Tehran, that has a near impeccable pro-western record. If the key word is trust, it is Saudi Arabia, not Iran, that is worthy.
Western media elites also need to be told that Saudi Arabia, not Iran, stands for badly needed regional stability. The clash in the Middle East is essentially between the forces of stability led by Riyadh versus the forces of disorder linked directly to the top decision-makers in Tehran, especially the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards. If the West values stability and has a vested interest in maintaining regional order, the natural ally is the moderate and pro-status quo Saudi Arabia, not the clerical and radical Iran.
Current media coverage of Saudi Arabia is way off balance and should be based on fact, not fiction, and account for history as well as the politics of the day. It also needs to distinguish between a proven ally as opposed to a potential market for lucrative deals. But most of all it needs to adhere to its own long-standing values of fairness and objectivity, which are desperately missing from the current western media coverage of contemporary Saudi Arabia.
Dr Abdulkhaleq Abdulla is professor of Political Science, chairman of the Arab Council for Social Sciences, theacss.org and a visiting Senior Fellow at London School of Economics. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Abdulkhaleq_UAE.