Saudi Arabia violated UK laws on paid political TV advertising during the visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to London earlier this year, the UK Office of Communications (Ofcom) ruled, according to a recent Guardian report.
During the crown prince’s visit in March, UK TV channels aired a one-minute advertisement showing how the Arabic kingdom is changing: images shown in the ad included women driving, long-banned cinemas reopening and other things. The advertisement was aired on behalf of the Saudi Center for International Communication, which is part of Saudi Arabia’s Ministry for Culture and Information, and was broadcast a total of 56 times in three days on the UK channel Sky 1, The Guardian reported.
However, Ofcom has ruled that Riyadh was using the ad to to sway British public opinion on Saudi Arabia, which the regulator says is a topic of controversy, citing human rights issues and Riyadh’s involvement in war in Yemen.
According to the regulator’s statement, “the broadcast of the advertisement was intended to influence public opinion in the UK on matters of public controversy.”
While the ruling reviews only one advertisement specifically and imposes no sanctions on Sky 1, it creates a precedent, which means Saudi Arabia is going to have problems buying advertisements on British TV in the future, The Guardian report speculated.
The advertisement has been defended by another British body, however. Clearcast, the service which conducts advertising screening, approved the ad before it aired and later defended its decision, stating that the advertisement sought to promote trade with Saudi Arabia, and trading with Saudi Arabia is in line with UK government’s foreign policy.
Interestingly, there are no such restrictions on advertisements posted on the internet, or even on billboards and in newspapers. When the Saudi crown prince visited London in March, the city was decorated with advertising posters, and websites showed corresponding ads, noted the Guardian, which also accepted ads as part of the same campaign, though it noted that the ads did not necessarily reflect the outlet’s editorial position.