In the wake of the mysterious disappearance of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi, all international media outlets have pulled out of the Future Investment Initiative conference in Saudi Arabia. Hosted by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the conference will focus on his plan to decrease the country’s oil dependence.
On Thursday, Fox Business Network, the last remaining international sponsor, dropped out of the conference. On Tuesday, Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo, who was scheduled to attend the conference, spoke out against bin Salman and the Saudi leadership but justified her network’s continued sponsorship of the conference.
“We do business and partnerships with other amoral people across the world. Let’s not forget that. But, at the same time, this was a real disappointment because this was our last hope of any stability in the Middle East to fight back on the terrorists in Iran.”
CNN, CNBC, Bloomberg, The New York Times, The Financial Times, and Japanese outlet Nikkei have all pulled out of the conference as well. Zanny Minton Beddoes, Editor in Chief of The Economist, and Patrick Soon-Shiong, owner of the Los Angeles Times, have both announced that they will no longer be attending the event.
“Whilst it is disappointing that some speakers and partners have pulled out, we are looking forward to welcoming thousands of speakers, moderators and guests from all over the world to Riyadh,” a conference spokesperson said in a statement reported by Al Jazeera English.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the UK Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox have also pulled out. Mnuchin stated he chose to withdraw after meeting with President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo.
These moves are in response to the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Turkey on October 2. On October 20, Saudi Arabia confirmed that Khashoggi was killed in the consulate by Saudi nationalists after a disagreement which resulted in a deadly “fist fight.” Mounting evidence suggests Khashoggi was also tortured and dismembered.
This announcement has not changed the attitudes of those media companies and individuals who dropped their sponsorships. No major changes in projected attendance have occurred since the announcement.
The moves send a strong message to Saudi Arabia, showing that American media will not stand quietly by in the face of injustice. However, media outlets have a fine line to walk. The relationship between Saudi Arabia and the US is delicate and important, both strategically and economically. The media and the government will play large roles in the uncertain future of this relationship.
Before Saudi Arabia admitted to the death of Khashoggi, President Trump warned that consequences would “have to be very severe” should Saudi Arabia be found responsible. Trump has called the Saudi report “credible” but that what happened was “unacceptable.”