Our jolly good mates in Saudi laugh at our oil dependence

Wikileaks-released cable about Saudi Arabia, our cuddly fundamentalist friend in the Middle East. We’ve been supporting these brutes for decades and yet no major Western leader seems to think it may be a good idea to move away from them. Alternative energy anybody?

Summary: The Saudi regulatory system offers the al-Saud regime a means to manipulate the nation’s print media to promote its own agenda without exercising day-to-day oversight over journalists, and Saudi journalists are free to write what they wish provided they do not criticize the ruling family or expose government corruption. In addition, most media in Saudi Arabia–print and electronic–are owned by royal family members, and accordingly self-censorship is the order of the day. In comparison to a few years ago, however, the media business in Saudi Arabia is dynamic, fueled by increased demand by Saudi and pan-Arab audiences, new licensing agreements with US and other international media, and an unprecedented level of openness to outside ideas.

2.In interviews with Embassy and Consulate Jeddah officers before the early December Eid holiday, XXXXXXXXXXXX editors and XXXXXXXXXXXX TV managers outlined key elements of these trends and adumbrated how the long hand of the al-Saud–motivated by profit and politics–retains a strong hold over media in this sophisticated new environment, through means ranging from refined Interior Ministry procedures for recalcitrant journalists, to directives by King Abdallah himself to adopt progressive perspectives as an antidote to extremist thinking. End summary.

Note the close relationship between the Murdoch family and the Saudi royal family:

Although originally founded as an economic daily, “Al Eqtisadiah” has long been equally known for its political content, often printing editorials and opinion harshly critical of the US on a number of fronts. XXXXXXXXXXXX. XXXXXXXXXXXX told us that XXXXXXXXXXXX recently had a three-hour discussion with one of Rupert Murdoch’s sons on a deal to publish an Arabic-language version of the Wall Street Journal, and that SRMG is trying to win a contract to publish the International Herald Tribune (uncensored, he emphasized) in Saudi Arabia. XXXXXXXXXXXX

So effective has US programming been, said XXXXXXXXXXXX, that it is widely assumed that the USG must be behind it. Some believe, he said, that Prince Talal’s relationship with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp and its sister company Twentieth Century Fox has a clear ideological motive behind it, noting that the Fox Movie Channel on “Rotana” is available for free to anyone with a satellite dish. Both XXXXXXXXXXXX and XXXXXXXXXXXX, liberal-minded supporters of US democracy and society with little use for conspiracy theory, clearly believed this was the case.

While revenue from commercials on Rotana’s Fox Movie Channel probably matter more to Prince Waleed than the dissemination of western ideas (MBC and Rotana are in a bitter battle for market share) it is easy to understand why XXXXXXXXXXXX, XXXXXXXXXXXX and XXXXXXXXXXXX believe that this programming is having a profound effect on the values and worldviews of Saudi audiences. During the recent Eid holiday, Rotana’s “Fox Movies” channel repeatedly aired two mawkish US dramas (again with Arabic subtitles) featuring respectful, supportive American husbands dealing with spouses suffering from addiction problems–in one case gambling (lost the kids’ college funds and then told her college professor husband it was because he was boring) and the other alcohol (smashing cars and china when she RIYADH 00000651 003 OF 004
wasn’t assaulting the husband and child.) These films and others broadcast over the Eid offer models of supportive behavior in relationships, as well as exemplary illustrations of heroic honesty in the face of corruption (“Michael Clayton”) and respect for the law over self-interest (“Insomnia.”)