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The image of Saudi Arabia in the British press, with particular reference to Saudi Arabia's Islamic Mission

By Taleb Al-Ahmady


The aim of this study is to trace the evolution of the image of Saudi Arabia in the British press from the 1970's to the 1990's. During this period, the image which the press and its readers had of Saudi Arabia underwent a\ud transformation. At the beginning of the 1970's, Saudi Arabia was perceived as a distant, rather exotic, part of the Arabian peninsula,much of a muchness with the other states in the Gulf, a country about which little was or needed to be known by British readers. It appeared to have no particular importance for Britain, far less so than Egypt, Syria or Iraq which were seen as the countries\ud of importance and influence, for good or ill in the Middle East and within the Arab world. By the beginning of the 1990's, Saudi Arabia was by contrast seen as a country which was of considerable importance for Britain both in\ud particular and in a general, being of critical importance for the West as a whole as the holder of both the largest\ud oil reserves and having the largest long-term oil\ud production capacity in the world. It came to be presented as economically important as a market for British exports both visible and invisible; a country in which a substantial number of British citizens worked and thus required the maintenance of actively good diplomatic relations; a regional power; and, as at least one, if not now the most influential country in the affairs of the Arab\ud world, when it chooses to exert its influence. A country therefore, which the readers of the quality press, the people with interest and influence in matters of foreign and economic matters, need to know about and have the features of her particular political, social and cultural system, as well as the nature and importance of it as an Islamic country and the force represented within and\ud beyond it, explored, explained and discussed for them by their newspapers. Thus, a distinct and substantially detailed image of Saudi Arabia cumulatively evolved in the British quality press over the period covered by this study.\ud \ud There have been very few earlier studies published which are of relevance to the image of Saudi Arabia. The existing studies have been carried out mainly in the USA and relate principally to the North American media and have tended to merge Saudi Arabia in the general stereotypes of `Arabs', or of `Islam', mostly deriving the stereotypes in fact from Palestinian Arabs, and have paid little attention to exploring the public image of Saudi Arabia as such.\ud This is, therefore, a pioneering investigation in terms of the research question addressed. It is also based on a much greater quantity and depth of data than has been explored in the previous studies.\ud \ud The methodology employed is that of qualitative content analysis applied to the `Quality' sector of the British Press, which unlike the `Popular' press in Britain provides the systematic coverage of foreign affairs. The Times, The\ud Guardian, the Daily Telegraph and the Financial Times were studied comprehensively during four, four week sample \ud periods, selected to spread on either side of the four main, pivotal, events in Anglo-Saudi relations, and\ud which, at each time, thus brought Saudi Arabia into the main focus for the British press, between the Oil Crisis of 1973 and the Gulf Crisis in 1990. Each of these, it was found, in fact led to a major extension or change in her image.\ud \ud The conclusions of the study indicate the following: (a) that the image of Saudi Arabia has typically been favourable in the British press as compared with other countries of the area; (b) it developed stage by stage from being a shadowy entity to being seen as holding a prominent place in the Arab and the Islamic communities as well as occupying a significant one on the world stage;\ud (c) the principal factors leading to the rise of Saudi Arabia's importance were seen by the Press as oil, its special position within and for Islam, a consistent\ud foreign policy of moderation and active opposition to communism and other extremist political movements, general economic strength and its strategic location; (d) Saudi Arabia also came increasingly to be seen as additionally\ud important through the influence it derived from using the weight of its oil, financial and political resourcesto supporta nd to promote its Islamic ideals and Islamic mission beyond its own borders

Publisher: School of Media and Communication (Leeds)
Year: 1995
OAI identifier:

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