“It’s hard to make predictions here,” said Brandon Turbeville, host of a weekly radio show Truth on the Tracks, in response to what the future would hold for The Independent after a Saudi investor bought significant stakes in the liberal icon of UK media.
The news came just days ago, when the Middle East Eye revealed that Sultan Mohamed Abuljadayel, a Saudi-based Saudi Arabian national, has acquired up to 50 percent of the Independent website.
Abuljadayel, 42, has taken a stake of between 25% and 50% in Independent Digital News and Media, the holding company of the Independent, according to filings at Companies House.
“Let's face it,” Mr. Turbeville said, “The Independent was not actually independent before sultan purchased his share.”
“It was controlled by an oligarch beforehand and now it is simply controlled by two oligarchs.”
Who is Sultan Muhammad Abuljadayel?
Amol Rajan, former editor of The Independent, says Abuljadayel is a rich man who wants to be richer. He went on to describe Abuljadayel as “a Saudi investor seeking influence.”
“Money and influence are the two main reasons that people invest in media, and there's no reason to think Abuljadayel is any different,” Mr. Rajan added.
The Middle East Eye quoted an informed Saudi source who described Abuljadayel as coming from an “established business family based in Medina”.
The Independent, however, downplayed the news, saying Abuljadayel’s investment would “secure further strategic growth” for the news outlet, adding that the editorial independence of The Independent has been formally protected by a new agreement between the shareholders.
“The fact that a wealthy Saudi sultan has such a controlling share, however, will probably result in the gradual decline of criticism of the KSA and most likely the eradication of any dissent regarding issues like Syria, Yemen, or Iran,” Mr. Turbeville told Muslim Press.
Registers updated on Companies House on Friday also indicate that the Saudi investor now controls up to 50 percent of voting rights within Independent Digital News and Media Ltd.
Saudi Arabia and its human rights record
The investment has also raised serious concerns around the issues of human rights and media freedom, both of which are almost meaningless from Saudi officials’ perspective.
“In a theocracy where all roads lead back to the House of Saud, the links between Abuljadayel and a monarchy whose reformist noises cannot conceal an appalling record on human rights will now come under the spotlight,” Mr. Rajan noted.
As a result of the investment, articles critical of the Saudi regime could diminish over time.
The Independent is known around the world for its coverage of the Middle East, led by Patrick Cockburn, Robert Fisk and Kim Sengupta.
It opposed the Iraq War and has been ferocious in its condemnation of the Saudi regime - including during the time that this deal was in the works.
“Robert Fisk's articles critical of Saudi Arabia may simply just stop appearing,” Mr. Turbeville said. “Independent readers won't notice because the change will be gradual and, quite frankly, there isn't much accurate coverage of those issues anyway.”
“For that reason, readers are likely to just continue on completely unaware and the Western/GCC/Israeli narrative will continue to be peddled as it is in all the other mainstream outlets.”
James Perloff, author of Truth Is a Lonely Warrior, told Muslim Press that such investments are usually done for geopolitical motives.
“As a general rule, when control of a major media organ is purchased, it is usually done for geopolitical motives (opinion-molding) rather than to simply make a profit from the publication itself,” Mr. Perloff remarked.