Saudi Prince al-Waleed bin Talal boasted in Dubai earlier this week about his ability to change the news content that viewers around the world see on television.
In early September 2005, Bin Talal bought 5.46% of voting shares in News Corp. This made the Fifth richest man on the Forbes World’s Richest People, the fourth largest voting shareholder in News Corp., the parent of Fox News. News Corp. is the world’s leading newspaper publisher in English. It operates more than 175 newspapers, in the UK, Australia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the US, and distributes more than 40 million papers per week. In addition, News Corp. owns and operates an international collection of TV outlets, radio stations, magazines, book publishers and film studios.
After bin Talal purchased his voting shares in News Corp., on September 23, 2005, he stated in an advertising supplement to the New York Times, â€œWhen I invest in a group like CITICROUP, the Four Seasons, the News Corp. or Time Warner, my objective is not to manage those companies.” But this is not quite accurate, considering the Princeâ€™s December 5, 2005 statement given to Middle East Online regarding his ability to change what viewers see on Fox News. Covering the riots in Paris last November, Fox ran a banner saying: “Muslim riots.” Bin Talal was not happy. “I picked up the phone and called Murdoch… (and told him) these are not Muslim riots, these are riots out of poverty,” he said. “Within 30 minutes, the title was changed from Muslim riots to civil riots.”
News Corp did not comment, but referred us to FOX NEWS, which responded with the following statement: â€œOver the course of our extensive coverage, it became clear that the Paris riots were caused by a number of different factors which we characterized in various ways as we continued to report the story and discover new information. In fact, one of our contributors, Father Morris, who was in Paris covering this story, was prominently on our air saying this was a cultural assimilation issue, not a religious one.”
However, there is evidence to the contrary as documented by international terrorism expert B. Raman. He wrote that â€œPakistani, Algerian and Moroccan members of the London-based Hizbut Tehrir (HT)” mobilized and sustained the riots. Also, the Parisian editor of Valeurs Actuelles, Michel Gurfinkiel observed that, â€œthe fact remains that only ethnic youths are rioting, that most of them explicitly pledge allegiance to Islam and such Muslim heroes as Osama bin Laden, that the Islamic motto – Allahu Akbar – is usually their war cry, and that they submit only to archconservative or radical imams.”
Interviewed on December 2, 2005, by the Financial Times, bin Talal elaborated further, â€œWhen I meet Mr Murdoch of News Corp, that owns Fox News, and BSkyB, or when I meet Mr Parsons, who controls CNN, Fortune magazine, People, Time, America Online, I donâ€™t intrude into the management of these companies. However, I do convey to them the message about where I believe they went wrong. Itâ€™s their discretion to decide what to do. My job is to open their eyes to things they may not have seen.” If indeed he was successful changing FOX NEWSâ€™ reports of the Paris riots, he got a big bang for his bucks.
And bin Talal is not alone in the Saudi efforts to silence criticism of its drive to spread its national religion, Wahhabism, around the world, and to hide its agenda. Using the British libel laws, which are pro-plaintiff, Khalid bin Mahfouz has sued, or threatened to sue, more than 30 publishers and authors, including Dr. Ehrenfeld. These lawsuits served to chill media reports naming individual Saudis involved in financing terrorist organizations.
Controlling the news media seems to fit into the Saudis long-term plan, which Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal revealed on December 6, 2005.
In the preparatory ministerial conference to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), al Faisal laid out a 10-year “plan of action to confront the challenges of the 21st century.” The 57-nation Organization held a meeting last week, to approve the “Mecca Declaration.” The heart of the declaration, according to the Prince, is to change the â€œharsh offensive on Islam from enemies abroad and some of its own children with deviant ideologies”.
The Turkish OIC secretary general, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, praised the â€œMecca Declaration” as the â€œroadmap for Islamic common action”.
Bin Talal has been advocating for years that this policy can be best achieved by leveraging Arab wealth. On May 1, 2002, in an interview with Lachlan Carmichael for the Saudi daily Arab News, Bin Talal stressed the importance of developing an Arab economic dominance over the U.S. Instead of boycotting American businesses, he said, â€œArabsâ€¦ stand more to benefit from maintaining trade ties with the US because the trade balance between the Arabs and the US is in our favor.”
The Arab News reported that according to bin Talal, Arab countries can influence US decision-making. He said: “if they [Arabs] unite through economic interests,” they would achieve influence over the U.S. decision makers. â€œWe have to be logical and understand that the US administration is subject to US public opinion,” he said.
Bin Talal concluded in the 2002 Arab News interview: â€œto bring the decision-maker on your side, you not only have to be active inside the US Congress or the administration but also inside US society.”
And bin Talal is moving fast. On December 5, Reuters reported from Dubai that bin Talal complained: â€œWe in the Arab world are not doing the job of explaining ourselves properly.” To remedy the situation, and to bring the proper message to Americaâ€™s brightest minds, bin Talal said that he established special centers dealing with Arab and Islamic studies at Harvard and Georgetown universities. In addition, he announced his plan to shortly launch a television channel called “The Message,” which, within two years will broadcast to the United States to â€œspread the right message.”
A free press is one of the pillars of Democracy. We should do everything to ensure that it stays that way.
Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, author of Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financedâ€”and How to Stop It, is director of American Center for Democracy and member of the Committee on the Present Danger and Alyssa A. Lappen is a freelance journalist who frequently contributes to FrontPageMagazine and other online journals.