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‘Independent’ to expand Saudi Arabia’s international media influence

‘Independent’ to expand Saudi Arabia’s international media influence
A Saudi media company has launched an Arabic-language version of the UK Independent headed by an ally of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Persian, Turkish and Urdu versions of the website will also be launched.

Independent Arabia will feature a mix of translated articles from the UK site and content written by the reporters from Saudi Arabia and other countries. The organization running it is the Saudi Research and Marketing Group (SRMG), which owns Arab News and Asharq al Awsat media brands.

Adhwan Alahmary has been appointed editor of the Independent Arabia. Seen as an ally of the royal family, he defended Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi embassy in Turkey in October.

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“First of all, we are 'Independent' and we do not belong to any party,” Alahmary told al Arabiya, whose parent company MBC Group is 60 percent owned by the Saudi government. “We promise the readers objectivity and the highest journalistic standards. We will leave it to the readers to judge our coverage, and time will proof that we are independent.”

Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan Al Saud was director of MBC until he left to become Saudi minister of culture in 2018.

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The Independent and SRMG signed a licensing deal in July, which outlined plans for SRMG to also launch a Persian, Turkish and Urdu version of the newspaper. A press release from the Independent says the new titles will adhere to the same standards and code of conduct as the UK version. 

However, the Guardian reported in October that two journalists approached to work at the Persian language edition were unconvinced there would be editorial independence from Saudi Arabia.

“When I asked whether the consultant editor would be empowered to kill a story that did not meet the Independent’s editorial standards, I was told that it was not yet clear whether the consultant editor would have that authority,” one of them said. “It was pretty clear that the Independent’s editorial control would be nominal.”

Part of Independent Digital News and Media already belongs to Saudi Arabia, after Sultan Muhammad Abuljadayel secured a stake of between 25-50 percent in 2017, according to company documents.

Independent editor Christian Broughton raised eyebrows when he visited Saudi Arabia for an economic investment conference in October, just weeks after the Khashoggi killing and as a number of media outlets pulled out of the conference.

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This isn’t SRMG’s first foray into partnerships with western media outlets. In 2018 it announced a partnership with Bloomberg to create Bloomberg Asharq, an Arabic language business and finance news service.

MBC Group is also looking to compete with Netflix with its own streaming service, which comes after Saudi Arabia banned a Netflix comedy series for criticizing the Kingdom.

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