WASHINGTON (Jul. 2)
Rep Larry Smith (D-Fla.) lashed out this week at the recent $4 million sale of United Press International to a London-based company owned by the brother-in-law of the king of Saudi Arabia.
Smith implied that the transfer of UPI ownership Sunday to the Middle East Broadcasting Center makes it unlikely the international news organization will be free to cover Israel and other politically volatile issues in a fair manner.
“Saudi Arabia has no free press. Every newspaper is censored by the government,” Smith said in a statement. “Under Saudi ownership, would UPI give fair coverage to Israeli elections or Islamic fundamentalists, or any topic distasteful to Saudi royalty?”
An information officer at the Saudi Embassy said the company is private and the government would have no influence over UPI’s operation.
Meanwhile; Steve Geimann, executive editor and executive vice president of UPI, sharply refuted Smith’s suggestions.
Geimann said he felt completely confident after his first meeting with company executives Tuesday. “I was very encouraged that they were interested in maintaining UPI as an international newsgathering operation and to make it be profitable. To do so it must maintain its objectivity, fairness and balance as the hallmark of its coverage.
“I saw nothing to suggest that any of these principles will be altered,” he said.
One Middle East analyst who asked not to be identified said the purchase “is not necessarily pernicious” and is part of a Saudi trend toward a more “sophisticated and savvy” approach to “dealing with the rest of the world.”
The analyst said while there may be “unwritten influence” by the government, it remains to be seen what role Saudi policy will play in UPI’s coverage. “Everyone will be looking to see if (the company) will play by the First Amendment rules.”