By Ryan Wentz
In March of this year, VICE released a mini-documentary entitled “The Camels of Arabia.” It has nearly five million views on YouTube so far. In it, the VICE crew meets with wealthy Saudi elites at a camel race, and follows them as they wait for the final results. It is the first of four promotional videos of Saudi Arabia that VICE is co-producing with Saudi-based publishing group, the Saudi Research and Marketing Group (SRMG). SRMG’s two largest shareholders are the Al Ahli Capital Fund and Al Ahli Capital Fund 4, both operated by the National Commercial Bank, a bank primarily run by the Saudi government.
Around the same time as the first video was released, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS) was being lauded as a friend of the West who intended to liberalize the economy by opening Saudi’s markets to foreign investment. MbS embarked on a lengthy trip around the U.S. to meet with the country’s elites: CEOs, politicians, weapons manufacturers, and film stars from New York, D.C. and Silicon Valley to Hollywood. Among them was VICE co-founder Shane Smith. MbS was embraced by the American ruling class and its media; his smiling face was plastered on the cover of newspapers and magazines from coast to coast. America’s prince charming had arrived.
With the murder of Washington Post reporter and Saudi citizen Jamal Khashoggi, however, the real face of the Saudi regime was exposed. The killing and dismembering of Khashoggi in Istanbul is only one of many recent atrocities committed by Saudi authorities. For more than three years, the regime—with the support of the U.S.—has led a catastrophic war on Yemen, which has killed thousands of civilians, displaced two million, and resulted in three-quarters of the entire Yemeni population (22 million) being forced to rely on some form of humanitarian aid. A child under the age of five dies every ten minutes. The UN has called it the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet.
On Wednesday, October 31, CODEPINK visited the VICE office in Venice, CA to urge them to cancel their contract with SRMG. It is disturbing to watch them normalize the repressive regime. They are essentially being paid to overlook human rights atrocities and war crimes when producing these supposedly “educational” films. For example, at one point, the VICE documentarian asks one Saudi man giddily, “Are you excited to meet with MbS?” She is very clearly infatuated with the Western media’s portrayal of the crown prince. Throughout the episode, there is no mention of Yemen or of human rights abuses within Saudi. Rather, the documentarian only insinuates at one point that the monarchy was “conservative,” but has since moved in a different direction.
VICE’s partnership with the Saudis is an example of irresponsible, shady journalism. On one hand, VICE has covered the ongoing destruction of Yemen and Khashoggi’s murder. Yet, they retain their contract with SRMG, with three more promotional videos expected to be released. VICE is disregarding the regime’s repression of women, LGTBQ+ folks, religious minorities and journalists, to name a few of the regime’s targets and its horrendous role in Yemen. Is VICE doing this simply because its co-founder Shane Smith is friends with MbS? Or is making money so much more important than human life? Whatever it is, we must pressure VICE to stop producing videos that whitewash Saudi crimes. It must sever its ties with SRMG.
Ryan is an organizer with CODEPINK in Los Angeles. Ryan graduated from the University of Colorado in 2017 with a B.A. in political science. They are non-binary and use any pronouns. Ryan has spent time living in Jerusalem, where they worked with a number of organizations for justice in Palestine. They are very dedicated to the liberation of all people from cisheteropatriarchy, white supremacy, and capitalism.