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Saudi Arabia funding new digital news platform with US studio

Subsidiary of Riyadh's Public Investment Fund has spent $1.6m to start the platform, which will have a studio in Washington
Saudi Arabia has started hiring new lobbyists aimed at US President Joe Biden's administration and the new Congress
Saudi Arabia has started hiring lobbyists aimed at influencing US President Joe Biden's administration and the new Congress (AFP)
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Saudi Arabia is seeking to launch a new digital news platform which will have a studio in Washington, recent foreign lobbying filings show.

The effort is backed by the Saudi Technology Development and Investment Company (Taqnia ETS), according to foreign lobbying disclosures filed with the Department of Justice.

According to the filings, Prime Time Media and its CEO, Elie Nakouzi, is assisting with the creation of the news platform, with the company being paid at least $1.6m for its services.

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The purchase order included in the lobbying disclosure describes the work being done by Prime Time Media as "English content for news platform". Over $75,000 has already been spent on equipment, freelancers and a studio space in Washington, the documents say.

The filings were signed by Nakouzi last month, and the purchase order included with the disclosure is dated September 2020. 

Prime Time Media "will assist client in the video production of English news content", but "will not participate in the dissemination of said news content", the filing said.

CNBC News first reported the disclosures on Thursday.

In an email sent to Middle East Eye, Nakouzi said "Taqnia plans to launch an international online platform" but Prime Time Media could not speak on its behalf. Nakouzi emphasised that his company did not engage in lobbying efforts, and was simply a production house.

Taqnia did not respond to Middle East Eye's request for comment by time of publication.

Lobbying efforts

According to CNBC, journalists and presenters involved in the project have past experience at Fox News, Al Jazeera, and NBC.

The lobbying disclosures name several writers, a video mixer, and two US-based journalists, Eric Ham and Craig Boswell, who will be anchoring online shows for the Saudi-funded venture.

The creation of the news platform comes as Saudi Arabia has started hiring a new crop of lobbyists, in a bid to seek access to US President Joe Biden's administration and Congress.

Taqnia is owned by the kingdom's $400-billion Public Investment Fund (PIF), the country's massive sovereign wealth fund designed to invest in projects to help boost Saudi Arabia's economy. The fund is chaired by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).

The lobbying disclosure report says Taqnia ETS is "supervised and financed by the Saudi Ministry of Information".

The announcement of the platform also comes almost three years after the death of Middle East Eye columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Earlier this year, the Biden administration released a report that said MBS approved the operation to capture or kill Khashoggi.

Biden issued sanctions against a number of the individuals involved in the operation, but stopped short of punishing the crown prince.

A number of advocates have been targeting Saudi Arabia, the PIF, and MBS in order to stop the kingdom from attracting US and Western investors due to the murder of Khashoggi.