Since rising to power in mid-2017, MBS has shown that, despite his best efforts to lay on the PR charm, he is hardly the reformer he has promoted himself to be. Indeed, he has strewn repression and brutality in his wake, domestically and outside Saudi borders.
LONDON — Ofcom, the United Kingdom’s media regulator, ruled on Tuesday that Saudi Arabia had broken British broadcasting law by running television advertisements aimed at promoting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and his so-called “reform” agenda.
Ofcom’s ruling focused on a single advertisement, broadcast 56 times over a three-day span during MBS’ visit to the U.K., that promoted the lifting of long-standing bans on cinemas and women drivers, before declaring that “things are undoubtedly changing” in the Gulf Kingdom following MBS’ rise to power. Saudi Arabia asserted at the time that the advertisement merely sought to “promote trade” with the United Kingdom during the Crown Prince’s visit.
The recent ruling by Ofcom reached a very different conclusion, however, finding that the Saudi government had been attempting to influence public opinion in airing the advertisement and thus breached the U.K.’s strict ban on paid political advertising on television and radio. While the ruling did not result in Ofcom’s imposing of sanctions on Saudi Arabia for the advertisement, U.K. media outlets have noted that the decision sets a “clear precedent” that will greatly limit Saudi Arabia’s ability to run similar advertising campaigns in the future.
Brutality and repression at home
Notably, Ofcom stated that the ruling had been influenced by Saudi Arabia’s controversial actions regarding “freedom of speech, human rights and women’s rights,” as well as the “the sale of U.K. weapons to the Kingdom and the Kingdom’s involvement in the Yemeni civil war,” despite praise of MBS’ credentials as a “reformer” by the Saudi government and the U.K. press.
In other words, Ofcom’s ruling was affected by the fact that MBS’ reputation as a “reformer” is at best misleading, and the advertisement’s promotion of that narrative led the media regulator to effectively ban the country from promoting this agenda in the future.
Indeed, since rising to power in mid-2017, MBS has shown that, despite his best efforts to lay on the PR charm, he is hardly the reformer he has promoted himself to be. For instance, the much celebrated lifting of the ban on women drivers, which went into effect in June, was overshadowed by the Saudi government’s creation of an exclusive prison for women who violate traffic laws and the jailing of the country’s most vocal women’s rights activists, who had campaigned in support of lifting the ban in the first place. Six of those activists remain in prison, despite the fact that women can now legally drive in the country, as part of what Human Rights Watch recently called “an unrelenting crackdown on the women’s rights movement” in Saudi Arabia.
More recently, that very “unrelenting crackdown” on dissent, particularly dissent voiced by women, has continued with Saudi Arabia’s decision to seek the death penalty against the 29-year-old female activist Israa al-Ghomgham for her participation in a peaceful protest against the government in 2015. She is publicly accused by the government of “chanting slogans hostile to the regime” and “attempting to inflame public opinion.”
Brutality and destruction beyond the Kingdom’s borders
However, it is not only Saudi Arabia’s continued maltreatment of its women that exposes the sham behind MBS’ public image as a “reformer.” For instance, the Saudi-led war in Yemen, which MBS masterminded, continues to target civilians in that country while the Saudi-led coalition’s blockade has brought millions of Yemenis to the brink of starvation and has led over 66,000 Yemeni children to die from preventable causes every year.
Worse still, the coalition bombed a school bus full of children earlier this month, which the Saudis defended as a “legitimate military operation,” and followed with another bombing of a group of fleeing civilian vehicles that killed an additional 22 children last week. According to sources close to MBS and cited in a recent MintPress report, MBS stated that he did “not care about international criticism” after the bombing of the school bus and that he would continue to promote the coalition’s targeting of Yemeni civilians, including women and children, because “we [Saudi Arabia] want their [Yemen’s] children, women and even their men to shiver whenever the name of Saudi Arabia is mentioned.”
Despite the clear barbarism of the Saudi-led (and thus MBS-led) coalition in Yemen, the U.K. has upped weapon sales to the Gulf Kingdom by 500 percent since the conflict began, and as many as 7,000 U.K. citizens are currently aiding the Saudi-led bombing campaign in the country. Was this the U.K.-Saudi “trade” that the advertisement cited by Ofcom allegedly sought to promote?
Top Photo | Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May looks to the media as she greets Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman outside 10 Downing Street in London, March 7, 2018. Alastair Grant | AP
Whitney Webb is a staff writer for MintPress News and a contributor to Ben Swann’s Truth in Media. Her work has appeared on Global Research, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has also made radio and TV appearances on RT and Sputnik. She currently lives with her family in southern Chile.