Not So Independent? Saudi Arabia and The Independent Newspaper

A Saudi businessman has owned 30% of The Independent since 2017. This is a newspaper that claims more monthly unique visitors in the UK than The Guardian and The Telegraph, and more than Buzzfeed, HuffPost and Vice combined.

The investor, Sultan Muhammad Abuljadayel, is reported to work for the monarchy’s National Commerce Bank. According to Britain’s Companies Register, the sultan owns “more than 25% and less than 50%” of shares in the publisher, Independent Digital News and Media Ltd.

For the record, the other major owner is Evgeny Levedev, a Russian-naturalised-Brit whose father headed a branch of the KGB. Completely unrelated to his control of media, of course, Evgeny is now known as Lord Levedev and sits in the UK’s House of Lords, after being nominated by PM Boris Johnson in 2020.

These facts set the newspaper’s coverage of Saudi Arabia and its “green initiatives” in a new light. In the past few years, The Independent has published a raft of articles highlighting the kingdom’s supposed intention to power its grid with 50% solar by 2030.

Another claimed that Saudi Arabia is committed to reforestation to prevent global warming: “Saudi Arabia … is leading the Middle East with its new project to plant 50 billion trees – five per cent of the global goal to grow one trillion trees.

Screenshot from the website of the Saudi Green Initiative.

“As a young Saudi citizen,” the article continued, “I don’t just want my country to be greener, with less carbon emissions. I want the whole world to be green.”

The Independent newspaper shook up the British media establishment when it was launched in 1980. Although it shifted to online-only in 2016, it remains a significant piece of the Anglophone media ecosystem, especially in international news.

This is what makes Saudi ownership of the newspaper so pernicious. The Saudis have been able to leverage long-standing positive biases towards Britain for the benefit of one of the world’s most regressive and militaristic regimes.

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