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December 13, 2005

Saudi Influence in American Media?

Was Rupert Murdoch influenced by a Saudi prince into coloring the news?

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.

FrontPage Magazine, a conservative mag, mind you, takes up the story.
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.

This, in and of itself, is no big deal to me. I don't judge companies based on who owns their stock. Heck, Michael Moore has traded in Halliburton (in spite of his denials) but I don't hold it against them. >grin<

But then came the Paris riots, and here's where the story gets interesting.

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, “When 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 Prince’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."
So far, this could just be a bit of bravado on the part of the Prince. Indeed, as we'll see in a second, Fox did change the captioning, but were they really the result of a call from the Prince? Here's their side of the story.
News Corp did not comment, but referred us to FOX NEWS, which responded with the following statement: “Over 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.”
Notably absent from this explanation is a direct denial of the original assertion. They don't say the Prince didn't influence the decision, but they do note that an on-air personality did suggest the riots were not religious in nature, which, if that's the turn the conversation then took, would be a perfectly good explanation for the changing of the graphic. Unfortunately, Fox doesn't give us a timeline with respect to the on-air comment and the caption change.

Is this, then, an actual case of Saudi influence in American media? Certainly the FrontPage article shows that bin Talal is a big believer in getting the Arab view of the world out in the American press (even if his ideas aren't quite right; the article also quotes coverage of the riots to suggest that they had indeed primarily a Muslim contingent rather that being all the poor or immigrants in particular areas). If it's true, and even if it's not, it's one more reason to never get your news just from one place. In the age of the Internet, there's no excuse for that.

Posted by Doug at December 13, 2005 11:54 AM

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