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Saudis sought Vice’s help to build media empire: report

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in Saudi Arabia on 16 June 2018 [Saudi Press Agency]

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia sought Vice Media’s assistance to build a sympathetic media empire, according to a report published Friday, Anadolu Agency reports.

Riyadh had already taken on a smaller enterprise through a state-owned company to contract Vice to produce documentaries on hitherto reforms in the puritanical Wahabi kingdom, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The country, which won accolades for allowing women to drive in 2018 but which still requires them to receive approval from a male relative to carry out many of life’s most basic tasks, sought out a more encompassing joint venture with Vice after contracting it for the documentary series.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met with Vice Media Executive Chairman Shane Smith last August on a yacht in the Red Sea to discuss the proposal.

READ: Saudi Arabia to be blacklisted by the European Commission 

The meeting was part of a push by bin Salman to develop media companies that can compete with Saudi Arabia’s regional competitors, including Qatar’s Al-Jazeera media company.

But the effort has been mired in the fallout of the Kingdom’s Oct. 2 killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was brutally murdered shortly after he entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

The talks about a possible joint venture with Vice have since stalled, and are unlikely to go forward, the Journal reported citing people familiar with the negotiations.

And Vice told the Journal it is reviewing its agreement with Saudi Research and Marketing Group, or SRMG, to produce documentaries on reform in the kingdom.

The relationship between the Kingdom and Vice was initiated by Prince Khalid bin Salman, the Saudi ambassador to the US and younger brother of the crown prince, who expressed interest in the media company which brands itself to younger audiences as an edgier organization.

It was that image that attracted Khalid to the company in the hopes it could help SRMG connect with younger Saudis.

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