Media sponsors pull out of Saudi conference


CNN, CNBC and the Financial Times said Friday that they would no longer participate in the Saudi Future Investment Initiative conference, known as “Davos in the desert.”

Hosted by Mohammed bin Salman, the event is designed to showcase the Saudi crown prince’s Vision 2030 plan to break the country’s dependence on oil.

The conference is scheduled to take place between October 23 and October 25 in Riyadh. But some media partners have pulled out as concerns mount over the fate of the prominent Saudi journalist, contributor to the Washington Post and critic of the Saudi regime.

Khashoggi has been missing for more than a week after going to the Saudi consulate general in Istanbul to obtain wedding papers. Turkish authorities have audio and visual evidence that shows Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate, a source familiar with the ongoing investigation told CNN. Saudi Arabia firmly denies any involvement in his disappearance.
CNN said in a statement on Friday that it has “withdrawn its participation” in the conference. CNBC said on Twitter that it was pulling out due to “continuing questions” over the journalist’s disappearance.

Finola McDonnell, chief communications and marketing officer at the Financial Times, said on Twitter that the UK newspaper would not partner with the conference while Khashoggi’s disappearance “remains unexplained.”

The New York Times pulled its sponsorship earlier this week.

Andrew Ross Sorkin, a columnist for the New York Times and anchor for CNBC, tweeted Thursday that he was “terribly distressed” by the disappearance of Khashoggi and would no longer participate. He had been due to moderate three sessions.

Zanny Minton Beddoes, the editor-in-chief of The Economist, will no longer speak at the event. Los Angeles Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong has also canceled plans to speak.

Other media partners for the Saudi investment conference include Bloomberg, Fox Business Network, Nikkei and Al Arabiya.
Fox Business Network and Bloomberg are monitoring the situation, according to spokespeople for the networks. Bloomberg signed a 10-year deal in 2017 with a Saudi publisher to run an Arabic language financial news network.
Top tech execs will help Saudi Arabia build its mega city of the future, but some are having second thoughts.

Companies beyond the media industry are also rethinking their involvement.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, who was scheduled to speak at the event about the future of transportation, said he was withdrawing.

Virgin founder Richard Branson said he’s pulling back from two tourism projects in Saudi Arabia and suspending discussions with its government about a $1 billion investment in Virgin’s space companies.

Chris Liakos, Zahraa Alkhalisi and Julia Horowitz contributed to this report.


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