Media companies and sponsors pull out of ‘Davos in the desert’ over missing Saudi journalist

Media companies and sponsors are pulling out of an event aimed at showcasing Saudi Arabia’s economic reforms after allegations that the kingdom ordered the killing of a prominent journalist.

Economist editor-in-chief Zanny Minton Beddoes was due to attend the Future Investment Initiative (FII) in Riyadh later this month but a spokesperson said she would not now be going.

The New York Times has also decided to cancel its sponsorship of the event, dubbed “Davos of the Desert”, while Andrew Ross Sorkin, a business reporter for the newspaper and anchor on US network CNBC, tweeted that he would not attend because he was “terribly distressed by the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and reports of his murder.”

Patrick Soon-Shiong, billionaire philanthropist and owner of the Los Angeles Times, also said he would no longer be in attendance, while the Financial Times, CNBC and CNN all pulled out on Friday.

Uber boss Dara Khosrowshahi said he was “very troubled by the reports to date about Jamal Khashoggi”.

“We are following the situation closely, and unless a substantially different set of facts emerges, I won’t be attending the FII conference in Riyadh,” Mr Khosrowshahi said.

The announcements will be a blow to Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman‘s attempts to portray himself as a moderniser of the deeply conservative kingdom.

The FII is billed as a showcase of Saudi Arabia’s transformation from a state dependent on oil into a technology and business innovator.

A website for the event states that the FII “will serve as a platform to drive expert-led debate, discussion, and partnerships among the world’s most visionary and influential leaders in business, government, and civil society”. 

“FII will continue to shape the future of global investment through an immersive three-day program featuring interactive conversations with global leaders, private meetings, curated roundtables, world-class entertainment, unparalleled CEO networking, and deep engagement with global media.”

Those aims will be severely damaged by the withdrawal of many of the world media’s biggest names.

It comes as pressure grows on Saudi Arabia following the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist and prominent critic of the regime.

Mr Khashoggi, who had been living in exile from the kingdom, has not been seen since entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.

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On Wednesday, a Turkish newspaper published names and photographs of 15 Saudi nationals who it said formed an “assassination squad” sent to carry out Mr Khasshoggi’s alleged murder.

The men allegedly arrived in Istanbul on two private jets the day Mr Khashoggi went missing.

Saudi Arabia issued a blanket denial on all allegations that it was involved in Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance, calling them “baseless”.

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