Why Did the Vice Media Group Secretly Organize the Saudi Government’s Azimuth Festival?

Murad Jandali | 2 years ago




The Guardian newspaper revealed on February 01, 2022, that Vice Media Group secretly organized a festival for the Saudi government, worth $20 million, despite its previous pledge to stop all its business in the Kingdom after the murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The Azimuth festival, which was held in the middle of the Saudi desert, in March 2020, is a festival that combines food, art and music.

Human rights activists had previously called for a boycott of such musical events, saying they aimed to divert attention from human rights violations in Saudi Arabia.


Luxurious Event

The global youth media company Vice organized the Saudi Azimuth Festival in March 2020, as part of its media campaign to make money in the Middle East, the Guardian reported on February 01, 2022.

“Those who attended the expensive event as social media influencers and others were not aware that this event was secretly organized by Vice Media Group,” the newspaper pointed out.

Efforts have also been made to keep Vice's name out of the action, in order for the global youth media company to maintain its reputation, due to Saudi Arabia's poor human rights record.

“Contractors who worked on the music festival, which was organized by Vice Media's creative marketing agency Virtue, were asked to sign a non-disclosure document, and Vice's name did not appear on public marketing materials,” the newspaper asserted.

Media Group insiders told the Guardian that “Vice is once again aggressively pursuing job opportunities in Saudi Arabia, only three years after it announced a temporary halt to all its business in the kingdom, due to the repercussions of the killing of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi.”

Since the horrific murder of Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018 by Saudi agents, the Saudi government has struggled to rehabilitate its tarnished reputation.

This is especially true of the Saudi crown prince and de facto ruler of the country, Mohammed bin Salman, whom US intelligence agencies confirmed in a confidential report in February 2021 that it is highly likely that bin Salman ordered the murder of Khashoggi.

In turn, bin Salman denies any involvement in the incident, but said he bears responsibility for the incident while he was in power.

American DJ duo (The Chainsmokers), French musician Jean-Michel Jarre and British rapper Tinie Tempah participated in the Saudi festival, as well as British contemporary artist Lauren Baker.

As for the distinguished chefs, they were chosen from several restaurants such as New York's Michelin-starred Contra and London's Annabel's.


Justified Deal

The Guardian explained that the Saudi regime is desperately seeking to spend huge amounts of money to re-polish its image in the eyes of Western youth, in contrast, the aging Vice, despite its counter-cultural roots, needs to quickly improve its finances.

Although the Azimuth Festival was not widely publicized in the Western media, due to it being held at the beginning of the Covid pandemic, it's believed to be a huge bonanza for Vice, employees of the group estimate the festival's total budget to be $20 million.

Vice had dominated the wave of new media creation in the early part of this century, but it has already made billions of dollars in investments at the same time as it confronted allegations of sexual harassment while trying to provide a financial return to investors.

Faced with this situation, the money on offer in the Middle East was so tempting to Vice, which led it to open its office in the capital, Riyadh, last year.

Vice also struck a deal to jointly produce promotional films for the country with the Saudi Research and Marketing Group, which has close ties to the Saudi regime and also has a partnership with the Independent and Evening Standard, according to the Guardian.

Vice Media Group has had multiple offices in the Middle East and North Africa since 2017.

“For years, staff have been apprehensive about Vice's partnership with the Saudi government, who, in return, only received empty statements and pathetic excuses to get a justification for these deals,” a Vice employee told the newspaper.

A Vice employee claimed to the newspaper that “directors at the group were acutely aware of the potential damage that could occur if Western audiences learned of their work with the Saudi state.”

“It is amazing, despite the constant opposition from the employees, Vice is still happy to receive money from a country that was literally responsible for the murder of a journalist with the approval of the ruling regime,” the employee added.

In response to a question about employees' concerns about Vice's return to conduct its business in the Kingdom, a spokesperson for the group was quoted by the Guardian as saying: “We founded Vice Arabia over four years ago as part of our global expansion, along with many other media and content companies that have expanded in the region.”


Vice Hypocrisy

On February 01, Director of Research for Democracy Now for the Arab World (DAWN), Abdullah Salman Alaoudh wrote an article in the Washington Post, of which Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was an opinion writer, about the massive music festival that Vice secretly organized in Saudi Arabia.

“Organizing the festival in secret is beyond hypocrisy for a wealthy Western media company that has gained an audience and influence by reporting on civil unrest and political corruption,” Alaoudh  said.

“Now, after three years, for $20 million, the company appears to be more willing to help whitewash the tarnished image of bin Salman, and legitimizing the practices of the Saudi regime and obscuring its crimes and violations,” he added.

“The increasing demand for oil and the strong shift towards culture and music through concerts featuring big personalities, film festivals and prominent sporting events helped Mohammed bin Salman restore a certain level of acceptance in the international community,” Alaoudh continued.

“All indications point to the Saudi government’s continuation of its reputation-brightening strategy, especially as it recently announced plans to increase these events by 600% in 2022. So this may not be the last time Vice has been secretly working with the Saudi government,” he stressed.

“For companies like Vice, business is business without any other considerations, and when it comes to whitewashing Mohammed bin Salman and his tyrannical government, the business is booming, as if the company is saying: We took millions to improve the image of the murderous dictator,” the article concluded.


Social Deviation

Since Mohammed bin Salman assumed the mandate of the Kingdom's reign in mid-2017, all values, constants, and religious foundations are being stormed in one package, and all under the banner of bright and deceptive “reform.”

But the month of December 2021 was full and reflective of the size and extent of these transformations, as Riyadh witnessed several remarkable entertainment events and activities, most notably, the holding - for the first time in the country's history - the Red Sea Film Festival in the coastal city of Jeddah from 7 to 15 December 2021.

The festival also comes four years after allowing cinemas to open in the country, specifically in April 2018; currently, there are more than 39 cinemas in the country of the Two Holy Mosques, with a number of screens exceeding 385, which are operated by five companies.

In conjunction with the activities of the Red Sea Film Festival, Riyadh organized a major international conference on philosophy, in which a group of senior philosophers from the most prestigious international universities in the United States, Europe and others participated.

The Kingdom also hosted the largest music festival in the Middle East from December 16 to 19, 2021, about 200 artists and musicians from the Netherlands, New York, Canada and Russia participated in Soundstorm.

Riyadh also organized from December 3 to 5, 2021 the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, which is the first event of its kind in the Kingdom.

The event was accompanied by entertainment events and huge concerts with the participation of international artists such as Justin Bieber, Jason Derulo, Asap Rocky, Tiesto and David Guetta.

On the other hand, human rights organizations consider these Saudi tendencies and spend lavishly on these events and activities and host international singers and players, as a form of propaganda for the regime and washing its international reputation as one of the most tyrannical and tyrannical regimes in the world.

These human rights organizations, led by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Human Rights Foundation (HRF), called on artists, players and celebrities to boycott any event organized by Saudi Arabia, because of the regime's malicious intent to use them to polish its miserable human rights record.

According to a Bloomberg Agency report published in November 2021, the Saudi authorities have allocated $64 billion to the entertainment industry, with the aim of diversifying its oil-dependent economy, noting that part of this huge budget is directed to supporting the film industry and hosting art festivals in the Kingdom.

“Attracting Hollywood stars to shoot films in the Kingdom, and before them the intense claims of social media influencers to visit the Kingdom, comes as part of the Kingdom's efforts to improve its image abroad, which is burdened with a record of human rights violations,” Bloomberg pointed out.

It is noteworthy that these soft tendencies led by the young Saudi Crown Prince coincide with the largest campaign of repression launched by its security services against hundreds of preachers, religious scholars, writers, jurists, media professionals and journalists, those who were arrested in 2017, on malicious political charges, among them are: Dr. Salman Alaoudh, Awad al-Qarni, Ali al-Omari, Abdulaziz al-Tarifi and others.