Saudi pro-government Twitter storm 'bullies' Bloomberg affiliate into censorship

Saudi Twitter storm 'forces' Dubai-based Bloomberg affiliate to 'fire' journalist critical of Mohammed bin Salman
3 min read
31 August, 2020
As journalist Jad Ghosn announced he was hired by Bloomberg Asharq, pro-Saudi bots unearthed his tweets criticising Riyadh, exposing the editorial limits of Middle East-based partnerships with Western media oultets
Bloomberg's Arabic language service emerged from a partnership with a Saudi stock company [Getty]
Exposing the editorial constraints of Middle East-based partnerships with well-known Western media brand names, a Saudi pro-government Twitter campaign has apparently forced a Bloomberg-affiliated Arabic service based in Dubai and owned by a Saudi group to rescind a job offer to a Lebanese journalist over his past criticism of Saudi Arabia.

On Wednesday, Journalist Jad Ghosn had announced he was resigning from the Lebanese Aljadeed TV to work for Bloomberg Asharq, a Dubai-based Arabic-language news outlet. But following the announcement, pro-Saudi Twitter influencers amplified by bot accounts circulated tweets by Ghosn criticising Saudi Arabia, and initiated a campaign calling for him to be fired.

In his previous tweets, Ghosn criticised Saudi Arabia over the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, as well as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the kingdom's human rights record.

Amid thousands of tweets relentlessly targeting Ghosn, Gulf-based influencers close to the Saudi and Emirati authorities led the pile-on.

Abdallah Al-Bander, presenter for the Abu Dhabi-based Sky News Arabia, tweeted the journalist "spent his life in media producing daily television reports and tweets of insulting Saudi Arabia, its symbols and its people in all fields".

In a widely shared tweet, Dubai-based Lebanese journalist Maria Maalouf, a presenter for Saudi Arabia's Channel 24 known for her defence of the Saudi governmentclaimed Ghosn is affiliated with Iran and Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

"As part of the anti-corruption campaign in #SaudiArabia, let's include the media first," tweeted Maalouf. "It is time for the Saudization of the media!"

Prince Sattam bin Khalid Al-Saud, a member of the Saudi royal family, also condemned Ghosn's tweets and urged Bloomberg Asharq to hire Saudi nationals instead.

An Arabic language hashtag that translates to "Prevent Jad from appearing in our media" circulated around pro-Saudi social media.

Bloomberg Asharq emerged from a 2017 partnership between financial media company Bloomberg and the Saudi Research and Marketing Group (SRMG), a Saudi stock company that operates multiple publications including an Arabic edition of the London-based Independent. It is thought to be close to the Saudi government.

Though neither Ghosn nor Bloomberg Asharq have provided an official update on the status of the job offer, a Thursday report by Lebanese media outlet Al-Modon claimed the offer was rescinded citing a tweet by Bloomberg Asharq's general-manager Nabil Alkhatib who seemed to deny the news of having hired Ghosn in the first place.

Read also: Is 'The Independent Arabia' really independent?

Social media disinformation expert Marc Owen Jones confirmed the involvement of pro Saudi government Twitter influencers and bots participating in the campaign.

"The usual process is riling up the key influencers in Saudi and UAE [who] create the steer for any legitimate accounts and bots," he told The New Arab, based on his tracking of the campaign against Ghosn.

This is not the first time pro-Saudi Twitter influencers and bots have targeted a journalist en masse.

In June, a misogynistic online harassment campaign comprising of tens of thousands of tweets attempted to smear two Qatar-based journalists, prompting calls for action from Twitter's management.

Saudi Arabia's soft power via its acquisition of media outlets - particularly in the United Kingdom - has been widely documented.

Last year, an Arabic version of British daily The Independent was launched by the same group that owns Bloomberg Asharq, after billionaire Saudi investor Soltan Mohamed Abuljadayel purchased large stakes in the British daily, as well as the Evening Standard

Abuljadayel, who is thought to be close to the government in Saudi Arabia, reportedly used an offshore company based in the Cayman Islands to buy 30 percent stakes in the publications.

Journalists have expressed concern over The Independent Arabic's editorial freedom, as its editor, London-based Saudi journalist Adwan Al-Ahmari, has publicly defended Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and denied Khashoggi's death, up until Saudi government confirmation weeks later.

Some suspected the Saudi media investments were part of government-linked efforts to improve Riyadh's image in Western media. 

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to stay connected