Senior management at Vice Media has pulled the plug on news stories that criticize or paint Saudi Arabia in a bad light after the media company’s partnership agreement with the country’s MBC Group, The Guardian has reported, citing anonymous sources and one reporter who talked on the record.
The two companies signed the deal in Jan. 2023, a few months before Vice declared bankruptcy.
Freelance writer John Lubbock told The Guardian that he and two other freelance writers were hired by Vice’s news team to write a piece about young people in Saudi Arabia who are fighting for rights for transgender people in the country. Lubbock explained that editors at Vice “actively welcomed” the piece, which reported, among other things, that the country has helped the families of transgender people harass and threaten their family members who have left the country.
When it was time to publish the piece, Vice repeatedly postponed and then ultimately canceled it altogether, Lubbock said. Senior management said that publishing the piece could pose a security risk to Vice staff in the country, according to the writer.
He said, “I was told by editors there that the story was delayed because they had a team of people in Saudi Arabia, but it seems that this may not have been true or only part of the story.”
Lubbock added, “Bankruptcy had already affected the publication’s reputation, but if they are now seen as shying away from difficult stories due to their ownership, it’s really the final nail in the coffin of their countercultural image.”
This isn’t the only evidence that supports Lubbock’s assertion. The media company recently removed a film about Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after it was uploaded online, sources told The Guardian. The reason why: publishing the film could jeopardize the safety of Vice staff in Saudi.
The relationship between Vice and MBC Group is an interesting one that is tied to changes in the country as it pivots toward focusing on becoming a top travel destination for international tourists. The Saudi government owns the majority of MBC, and Vice has stated that the partnership will ultimately become a “leading platform for quality digital Arabic content centered on modern Arab youth culture” and that news reporting will not be a focus.
The Guardian also reported that last year employees were told by Vice’s former president of news that they should move on to alternative employment if they aren’t supportive of the deal with Saudi Arabia. He said that “the Saudi regime has committed atrocities and done all sorts of terrible things” and that “if you are doing work for the various Saudi tourism entities, that money obviously, is coming from the government, everything in Saudi is.”
He added that if working for Vice in light of the deal is “a step too far for you as a human being on a personal level” then “… go with God. No one is forcing you to work here.”
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