BBC News and the ‘Saudi newspaper’ that isn’t

A media outlet described by the BBC as a 'Saudi newspaper' is based in London.

An article published on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on November 21st under the headline “Israeli man’s photos in holy Muslim site cause social media rage” ends with the following paragraph:

“The Israeli army’s chief of staff, Maj Gen Gadi Eizenkot, recently told an online Saudi newspaper that Israel was prepared to share “intelligence information” with Riyadh.”

The use of the words “online Saudi newspaper” obviously leads readers to understand that the publication concerned is headquartered and produced in Saudi Arabia. Those who bothered to click on the link leading to a Reuters article would find the publication described as an “Arabic language online newspaper” that is “privately Saudi-owned”.

However, the publication concerned – Elaph – is based in London. Its founder and current chairman – Othman al Omeir – does indeed originate from Saudi Arabia but according to the company’s registration details he holds British citizenship and resides in Morocco.

Moreover, access to the Elaph website has been blocked by Saudi Arabia on at least two occasions in the past and may still be banned. That may perhaps explain why the Elaph interview with Israel’s Chief of Staff – conducted by an Israeli journalist – did not make waves in the Saudi Arabian media, as Dr Mordechai Kedar pointed out.  

“This site is, in fact, not at all a Saudi newspaper, as claimed in the various reports, and is run from London by two people, one born in Saudi Arabia and the other in Iraq.

Few Israelis know that the interviewer was not some Saudi journalist who landed in Israel in secret, as was suggested, but by Druze-Israeli Majdi Halabi, one of our own, who serves as Elaph’s Israel correspondent. […]

Incidentally, I combed the Saudi news outlets for any mention of the interview, but I did not find one.”

Although it has in the past described Elaph accurately as a “London-based Arabic newspaper”, the BBC on this occasion employed the inaccurate term”Saudi newspaper”. While it was by no means the only media outlet to promote that misleading description, one might have thought that the fact that the BBC signed a business deal with Elaph two years ago would have sufficiently jogged memories to ensure that audiences were provided with an accurate description of the company.

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