OPINION: Jamal Khashoggi And The Selective Sympathy of American Media Outlets
Last month, the Saudi Arabian government admitted to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi Journalist and previous political columnist at the Washington Post. The case, which was covered heavily in American outlets, has caused international uproar and condemnation, launching a CIA investigation on the involvement of Mohammad Bin-Salman, the Saudi crowned prince, in the murder of the high-profiled Journalists.
The case is still undergoing a rigorous investigation, but most likely Mohammed Bin-Salman will not be held accountable for his brutal crimes. Khashoggi's murder opened the debate regarding the US’ current relationship with Saudi Arabia once again.
While the case deserves the media attention it has received, and Saudi Arabia should be held accountable for its human rights violations, this showcases another gap in the news media’s coverage of political issues in the Middle East generally, and Saudi Arabia more specifically.
Only one month before Khashoggi’s murder, Saudi Arabia’s authorities arrested at least eight feminist activists and allegedly executed one of them. Notable Human rights activists, including Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan and Aziza al-Yousef, spent years advocating for improving women’s rights. However, besides dispersed stories, mostly done by British media outlets such as the Guardian and BBC, the coverage has been minimal to say the least.
The issue even disappeared from those few newspapers after a couple of weeks, and did not return when, a couple weeks later after the reveal of Khashoggi, Amnesty International revealed that there has been incidents of torture and sexual assault. Besides some reporting done by international organizations, the issue, unfortunately, fell through. A disappointing outcome — especially since it is evidence of the contention of Saudis’ authorities in their attempt to silence anyone who does not agree with them.
While there may be many ways to interpret the contrast in coverage, it should be noted that Khashoggi’s case may have received more attention because of his position as a well-known journalist: he worked at a prominent American newspaper and was raised in an upper-class Saudi family. Having received an American education and later having worked at multiple media outlets, he already had strong connections to the industry.
In contrast, Saudi feminists and human rights activists are often excluded from Western media coverage because they are based in Saudi Arabia, under the strict control of the absolute monarchy. They lack access to any type of media outreach.
Saudi feminists were also incredibly vulnerable before their arrest as they lacked any sort of security network. These women relied mostly on social media to highlight their demands — a very public and unreliable platform — making them more visible and easier to target. In addition, Saudi feminists are often demonized on national TV and presented as “terrorists” who “threaten national security”.
The lack of access to resources, unfortunately, has led to their case being ignored by various international organizations and major world powers. Their voices are then silenced and soon forgotten after the brief news cycle. This has proven to be even more damaging since the most leading newspapers, including the New York Times, have previously embraced the crowned prince as the motivator behind recent legislation that gave women multiple rights, such as driving.
This type of coverage subdues and supports an inaccurate vision of Saudi feminism and erases all of the sacrifices these female activists have done to fight for equality.
In order to take a stand against Saudi Arabia and support these female activists, more balanced reporting is required. Instead of being reported as a unique and single incident, the brutal murder of Khashoggi should be seen as an example of Saudi Arabia’s long pattern of human rights abuses. Abuses that are, unfortunately, unreported and unquestioned.