Ambassador Dr. Saud Kateb, a renowned Saudi diplomat, served as his country’s Deputy Minister for Public Diplomacy between 2018 and 2020. In a January 24th 2022 interview broadcast by the Rotana Khalijia channel, he addressed an incident in which a BBC Arabic contributor – Mehdi Eliefifi – revealed on air that the BBC had not paid him for his appearances in over two years. Kateb then went on to point out several structural problems at BBC Arabic and other Arabic language subsidiaries of Western media outlets.
Concerning the Mehdi Eliefifi incident:
Ambassador Kateb: “I have a dual perspective towards this issue. The first part is regarding the BBC, about the BBC. The BBC always speaks in ideals; it has critiques and speaks about rights, about the question of human rights. It is hence supposed to be the party most invested in – I mean – not deprive people of their right [by not paying them]. This is on the one hand. Was I comfortable with the manner the guest approached [the issue]? I think he was not supposed to do this.”
Concerning BBC Arabic and Arabic subsidiaries of Western channels: [emphasis added]
Interviewer Abdullah Mudaifer: “Did BBC suffer a major blow after this segment [was broadcast]?”
Ambassador Kateb: “Certainly. Certainly a major blow, because [the segment] hit a fundamental part of the channel’s virtual image. Which is an image… I personally [have made] plenty of observations concerning BBC Arabic, specifically.”
Mudaifer: “What observations have you made about it?”
Kateb: “I wrote on this matter that Arabic subsidiaries have cost their international channels much credibility.”
Mudaifer: “Does that mean that you view BBC English as more credible than BBC Arabic?”
Kateb: “The anguish I suffered was from BBC Arabic most of all.”
Mudaifer: “What did you suffer?”
Kateb: “The problem, I have [repeatedly] said, is that many personas which the foreign channels attract, that the international channels [recruit] for their Arabic subsidiaries, they have agendas, I mean, they have plenty of psychological burdens. Consequently, they largely lack credibility and have specific agendas.”
Mudaifer: “My question is simple: Is the credibility of BBC English greater than that of BBC Arabic?”
Kateb: “Its [BBC English’s] credibility is not perfect but I believe that it is much preferable to the Arabic subsidiary. And not only the BBC. Many…”
Mudaifer: “Channels which…”
Kateb: “Arabic versions of international channels…”
Mudaifer: “Have less credibility than other channels.”
Kateb: “They [the Arabic-speaking employees] transferred their issues, agendas and concerns into these channels, costing them much of their credibility.”
The full interview is available in Arabic here.
Although a senior civil servant and consequently a representative of the Saudi establishment, Ambassador Kateb is also an expert in public diplomacy. His observations about Arabic language Western outlets in general support a series of findings that CAMERA Arabic has been collecting for several years about the very same outlets, including the Saudi-affiliated Independent Arabia. Employees of those outlets often do not share the same values as the Western public which pays their salaries. In the rarer case of private media outlets, editorial boards often fail to hold employees to the same standards of journalism practiced in English.
Although the BBC has repeatedly asserted that “BBC Arabic shares exactly the same principles of accuracy and impartiality as BBC News in English and we strongly reject the suggestion that its impartiality is compromised”, that claim is clearly not supported by Ambassador Kateb’s observations.