The New York Times and Washington Post have published several investigative reports and opinions on Saudi internal affairs and foreign policy. Their tone has been mostly critical, direct and straightforward. Many observers believe this shows a “negative” political attitude towards Riyadh while others think it is part of the journalistic style which freedom of expression allows in the US.
Taking on America’s top dailies
These two dailies are also critical of US President Donald Trump who has very good ties with the Saudi political leadership. Although their editorial position is critical of Saudi policy on several issues, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited their offices and sat with their editorial boards. He engaged in a candid discussion about the kingdom and its future, his plan for change and reform as well as social, cultural and economic transformations to build a civil state that believes in plurality and respects human rights.
There is a new approach in dealing with the media and it must reflect on the performance of Saudi officials and on the work of media offices in important capitals.Hassan Al Mustafa
The crown prince did not take an opposing stance towards these two dailies on account of their criticism of Riyadh’s policies but he visited them and frankly talked about issues of fundamentalism, citizenship, women’s rights and the fight against terrorism. He listened to all their questions and comments without any sign of consternation or concern and without setting any red lines.
The same geniality and candor was evident in the Crown Prince’s attitude during his interview with the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal. His manner of speaking in his interview with the CBS’ 60 Minutes was something the Saudis are not used to. His other interviews with The Atlantic and Time magazine had the same freshness about them.
An end to diffidence
In the past, Saudi officials avoided talking about issues related to extremism, corruption, women and sects. However, all these topics which were not addressed before were tackled by the crown prince in a transparent and objective manner and he even presented them as part of his vision and reform project.
The press and the media in the US and developed countries are a real fourth estate that is influential and that monitors political and government functioning.
Journalists look for information and stories and seek to find scoops. This is exactly what Prince Mohammed bin Salman did as he provided the American press with useful information and clarity on political views that they were seeking and which any media outlet wishes to secure. He thus gained respect of these media outlets.
Style is the message
This Crown Prince’s interaction with the media during his visit to the US is worthy of contemplation. In this respect, the vital role played by the media office of the Saudi embassy in Washington shows the level of its awareness, professionalism and objective approach in dealing with media outlets. We could see this in the interview of the Saudi Ambassador to the US, Prince Khalid bin Salman, with CNN. Choosing CNN was the right choice and it granted the interview credibility and helped it gain widespread interest.
There is a new approach in dealing with the media and it must reflect on the performance of Saudi officials and on the work of media offices in important capitals like London, Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Geneva, Moscow, Beijing and Cairo. The aim is not to launch a costly promotional campaign but to present the change happening in the kingdom and reflect its new and open outlook towards the world, which is not afraid of the media’s questions nor does it oppose it but respects it.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Hassan Al Mustafa is Saudi journalist with interest in middle east and Gulf politics. His writing focuses on social media, Arab youth affairs and Middle Eastern societal matters. His twitter handle is @halmustafa.