Interesting piece by Rima al-Mokhtar in Arab News about the international media coverage of Saudi Arabia. The newspaper reveals that the Associated Press were almost expelled from the Kingdom after they misquoted deputy foreign minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah last December:
According to a source from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, MOFA, the ministry demanded The AP to publish a correction or else they would close its office in the Kingdom and ban all their reporters to operate and work there.
AP later published a correction, and the agency continues to report from the country. But that story was not actually reported in Saudi Arabia. The prince’s statement that was misquoted by AP came during a speech he gave in the Bahraini capital Manama during a conference there. Al-Mokhtar then cites a better example of the lousy reporting on Saudi Arabia: a story that has gone viral about an Emirati man who was allegedly kicked out from a Riyadh festival for being “too handsome.”
You have not seen that story here on Riyadh Bureau, but many international news outlets were all over it and reported it as fact. “The story was a fabrication, but it remained in the news for weeks,”Arab News says. “It solidified the perception that Saudi Arabia is an unforgiving and backward country.” This is the case with many foreign reporters who write about Saudi Arabia from outside. No matter how outlandish and unbelievable a story might sound, they would still run with it anyway because it fits the stereotype many have about the country. Verification and accuracy? Who cares about such things in the age of cheap pageviews?
However, the Saudis also share the blame for this. The country does not make it exactly easy for foreign journalists to visit the country and report from the ground instead of relying on secondary and tertiary sources. The lack of transparency in institutions and failure of official spokesmen to provide correct information make it extremely difficult for journalists to work, even those reporting for the local Saudi media. We can probably all agree that it is not easy to report from here, but we also must agree that we all can and should do better.