Concerns over 'propaganda spread' as Saudi billionaire buys stake in London's Evening Standard

Concerns over 'propaganda spread' as Saudi billionaire buys stake in London's Evening Standard
Saudi investment in the daily tabloid newspaper, of which 860,000 copies are distributed across London and beyond every day, has raised eyebrows.
3 min read
26 February, 2019
London Evening Standard, of which 30% has been acquired by a Saudi billionaire [Getty Images]
A mystery purchaser who allegedly used an off-shore front company to buy a 30 percent stake in The Evening Standard has been revealed as a Saudi business tycoon, raising concerns over editorial independence. 

Sultan Muhammad Abduljadayel, about whom very little is publicly known, bought a third of the parent company from Russian Evgeny Lebedev, for £25 million at the end of last year, the Financial Times reported.

Abduljadayel, a Saudi banker connected to NCB capital, a company described by The Guardian as "a division of a bank ultimately controlled by the Saudi government", invested in the Evening Standard's parent company, Lebedev Holdings, allegedly through a Cayman Islands account.

The newspaper's editor, George Osborne, was formerly the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As the UK's finance minister, he ignored his own family company's offshore dealings while calling for a global blacklist on tax havens.

Saudi investment in the daily tabloid newspaper, of which 860,000 copies are distributed across London every day, has raised eyebrows.

Some suspect the Saudi media investment is part of government-linked efforts to improve Riyadh's image in Western media.

The Saudi government, and its de-facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, have come under fire for human rights abuses including the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

This is not the first time Abduljadayel has invested in British media. He bought approximately a third of The Independent, also owned by Lebedev, two years ago.

Staff at The Independent, whose offices are in the same building as The Evening Standard, at the time expressed discomfort over possible "editorial restrictions". 

Independent Arabic

The Independent Arabic was launched last year following Abduljadayel's investment, with a partnership struck between the newspaper and the Saudi Research and Marketing Group (SRMG) to establish four new websites, in Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Urdu.

The SRMG, which owns fifteen daily, weekly and monthly newspapers and magazines including Asharq al-Awsat, is linked to Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz and his sons.

The editor of The Independent Arabic, which launched in the last week of January, is London-based Saudi journalist Adwan al-Ahmari, who has defended Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on the record and who even denied the death of Jamal Khashoggi in Arab and Western media outlets, up until Saudi government confirmation.

Based on an analysis of its content, the Arabic version seems to have little in common with its English counterpart. It consistently ignores controversial occasions when Saudi Arabia enters the headlines, notably when reports of torture used against female activists detained in Saudi prisons were widely published.

It similarly ignored developments pertaining to the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the European Union inclusion of Saudi Arabia on the blacklist of terrorism financing.

On the regimes of UAE, Egypt and Bahrain, it has taken a bland line consistent with the alliance between those countries' regimes and the Saudi government.

Both The Independent and The Evening Standard have said the terms of the deal will protect their editorial integrity while allowing them to "flourish", observers have noted a casual softening of both papers' tone on Saudi affairs, especially in the opinion pages.

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