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Vice blocked news stories that could offend Saudi Arabia, insiders say



Vice has repeatedly blocked news stories that could offend the Saudi government, leaving its reporters unsure if they are still able to report freely on the kingdom’s human rights abuses, sources have said.

The media company recently signed a lucrative partnership deal with the MBC Group, a media company controlled by the Saudi government, to establish a joint venture in the Middle Eastern country. Of the 29 jobs currently advertised on Vice’s careers page, 20 are based in the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh.

But the enormous sums of money now flowing from Saudi Arabia into Vice have led to high-level concerns within the company’s news division that the bosses are censoring its western-facing news content in order to protect staff working on contracts in Saudi Arabia.

John Lubbock, a freelance writer, said that he and two fellow writers were commissioned by Vice’s news division earlier this year to write a piece about young Saudis campaigning for transgender rights. Their reporting claimed the Saudi state is helping families to harass and threaten transgender Saudis based overseas.


Editors in Vice’s news division actively welcomed the piece, Lubbock said, as it fitted with the outlet’s track record of reporting on LGBTQ+ rights, autocratic regimes and the Middle East. However, publication of the article was repeatedly postponed and then cancelled at the last minute. Multiple sources at Vice said it was pulled after a high-level intervention by senior Vice managers, who said its publication could pose a threat to the safety of the company’s staff working in Saudi Arabia.

Lubbock said: “I was told by editors there that the story was delayed because they had a team of people in Saudi Arabia, but it seems that this may not have been true or only part of the story. Bankruptcy has already affected the publication’s reputation, but if they are now seen as shying away from difficult stories due to their ownership, it’s really the final nail in the coffin of their countercultural image.”

In another recent example, a film in the Vice world news Investigators series about Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman was deleted from the internet after being uploaded. Again, sources at Vice said the justification for removing the video was partly attributed to concerns about the safety of staff based in Saudi Arabia.

Five years ago the company paused its work in Saudi Arabia following the state-backed murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi but has since enthusiastically embraced the kingdom.

This time around, rather than pulling back from the country and enabling such pieces to be published, Vice, which last week was bought out of bankruptcy, is rapidly expanding in Saudi Arabia, as part of a wider strategy of shifting away from news and towards lifestyle content. Vice’s western-based news staff retain editorial independence but have been overruled by corporate executives. A Vice spokesperson declined to comment on whether the company now operates an effective ban on covering controversial aspects of Saudi Arabia.

The impact of Vice’s joint venture with the Saudi-backed publisher has already been felt in the company’s London office. For two years a a large photograph of the Sarah Everard memorial protest hung on the wall. To the anger of staff, this photograph was taken down by employees working on the Saudi joint venture and replaced by a giant map of Saudi Arabia.

The pace of change in the Middle Eastern country is rapid. Until recently, ordinary Saudis feared a visit from the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, a powerful religious authority that enforced strict Islamic morals and cracked down on youth culture.

Nowadays, the Saudi government actively welcomes Vice, with the media company receiving millions of dollars through its advertising subsidiary Virtue to promote Saudi Arabia around the world.

Most of Vice’s new employees will be based in Riyadh’s Jax district – an attempt to create a trendy artistic area similar to London’s Shoreditch. Saudi-based Vice staff are being employed by a joint venture with the MBC Group, a broadcaster that is 60% owned by the Saudi government.

Vice is promising its new Saudi venture will be a “leading platform for quality digital Arabic content centred on modern Arab youth culture”, and it will not be looking to invest in news reporting.

Last year the company’s former president of news told Vice news staff on a conference call that they should work elsewhere if they felt unable to stay with the company due to its Saudi presence. According to a recording of the call, he said “the Saudi regime has committed atrocities and done all sorts of terrible things” and “if you are doing work for the various Saudi tourism entities, that money obviously, is coming from the government, everything in Saudi is”.

He continued: “We have opened an office, we’re staying there, we’re committed to our presence in the region. If that’s a step too far for you as a human being on a personal level then OK, go with God. No one is forcing you to work here.”

He said Vice had chosen to be part of the “transformation of the region” and wanted to create a platform for young, creative people to express themselves: “They’re sort of carrying the Vice banner of pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable in the society and they feel like they’re sort of flying a flag proudly.”

The Guardian has previously revealed how Vice and Virtue organised a giant music festival in the Middle East on behalf of the Saudi government. The event, costing about £15m, featured the Chainsmokers and Tinie Tempah.

The enormous financial power of Saudi Arabia, its attempts to pivot away from oil money and its desire to rebrand as a popular tourist destination have led to rapid change in the country – and the potential for enormous paydays for western companies. While it has relaxed rules on women driving, its human rights record remains dire, especially for LGBTQ+ people.

Despite this, the country’s money has opened doors. Saudi Arabia’s national investment fund has already bought Newcastle United, managed to wrestle partial control of golf and is paying unprecedented sums to lure some of the world’s top footballers to the country.

It is also upending the media business, a struggling industry where brands can be bought on the cheap. In the UK, both the Evening Standard and the Independent are already part-owned by a bank controlled by the Saudi state.



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Jailed Italian Mafia boss Messina Denaro dies



Mug shot of Matteo Messina Denaro

A handout photo shows Matteo Messina Denaro Italy’s most wanted mafia boss after he was arrested in Palermo, Italy, January 16, 2023. Carabinieri/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo Acquire Licensing Rights

ROME, Sept 25 (Reuters) – Italian Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro, who was arrested in January after spending 30 years on the run, has died, AFP reported on Monday, citing Italian media.

Messina Denaro, 61, was suffering from cancer at the time of his arrest. As his condition worsened in recent weeks he was transferred to a hospital from the maximum-security prison in central Italy where he was initially held.

He was convicted of numerous crimes, including for his role in planning the 1992 murders of anti-mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino – crimes that shocked Italy and sparked a crackdown on the Sicilian mob.

He was also held responsible for bombings in Rome, Florence and Milan in 1993 that killed 10 people, as well as helping organise the kidnapping of Giuseppe Di Matteo, 12, to try to dissuade the boy’s father from giving evidence against the mafia. The boy was held for two years, then murdered.


Dubbed by the Italian press as “the last Godfather”, Messina Denaro is not believed to have given any information to the police after he was seized outside a private health clinic in the Sicilian capital, Palermo, on Jan. 16.

According to medical records leaked to the Italian media, he underwent surgery for colon cancer in 2020 and 2022 under a false name. A doctor at the Palermo clinic told La Repubblica newspaper that Messina Denaro’s health had worsened significantly in the months leading up to his capture.

Reporting by Crispian Balmer and Kanjyik Ghosh; Editing by Kim Coghill and Gerry Doyle

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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Ukraine to receive US long-range ATACMS missiles, US media report



United States President Joe Biden has informed his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, that Washington will provide Kyiv with ATACMS long-range missiles, US broadcaster NBC News has reported.

Ukraine has repeatedly asked the Biden administration for the long-range Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) to help hit supply lines, airbases and rail networks deep behind Russia’s front lines in occupied regions of Ukraine.

But the White House has not announced a decision to provide Ukraine with the ATACMS system and the missiles were not publicly discussed when Zelenskyy visited Washington, DC on Thursday for talks with Biden, even as the US announced a new $325m military aid package for Kyiv.

The White House and the Pentagon declined to comment on the NBC report on Friday.


The Pentagon also declined to say whether any promise of ATACMS was given to Zelenskyy during his meetings on Thursday at the Department of Defense, saying: “In regards to ATACMS, we have nothing to announce.”

A date for delivery of the ATACMS was not revealed, according to NBC.

Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned earlier this month that the supply of longer-range missiles to Kyiv would cross a “red line” and the US would be viewed as “a party to the conflict” in Ukraine if it did provide such weapons.

Zelenskyy did not answer directly when asked about the NBC reports on ATACMS, but he noted that the US was the biggest single supplier of weaponry to Ukraine.

“We are discussing all the different types of weapons – long-range weapons and artillery, artillery shells with the calibre of 155mm, then air defence systems,” Zelenskyy said, speaking through an interpreter.

“We have a comprehensive discussion and [we] work with the United States at different levels,” he said.

The Washington Post also reported that the US plans to provide Ukraine with a version of the ATACMS that will be armed with cluster bomblets rather than a single warhead, citing several unnamed sources familiar with the deliberations, and that can fly up to 306km (190 miles).

ATACMS is designed for “deep attack of enemy second-echelon forces”, a US Army website states, and could be used to attack command and control centres, air defences and logistics sites well behind the front line.



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Who is Lachlan Murdoch, heir apparent of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire?



For Lachlan Murdoch, this moment has been a long time coming. Assuming, of course, that his moment has actually arrived.

On Thursday, his father Rupert Murdoch announced that in November he’ll step down as the head of his two media companies: News Corp. and Fox Corp. Lachlan will become the chair of News Corp. while remaining chief executive and chair at Fox Corp., the parent of Fox News Channel.

The changes make Rupert’s eldest son the undisputed leader of the media empire his father built over decades. There’s no real sign that his siblings and former rivals James and Elisabeth contested him for the top job; James in particular has distanced himself from the company and his father’s politics for several years. But Rupert, now 92, has long had a penchant for building up his oldest children only to later undermine them — and sometimes to set them against one another — often flipping the table without notice.

Given Rupert Murdoch’s advanced age, this might be his last power move. But there’s a reason the HBO drama “Succession” was often interpreted as a thinly disguised and dark satire of his family business. In Murdoch World, as in the fictional world of the Roy family, seemingly sure things can go sideways in an instant, particularly when unexpected opportunities arise.


Lachlan Murdoch has lived that first hand. Born in London, he grew up in New York City and attended Princeton, where he focused not on business, but philosophy. His bachelor’s thesis, titled “A Study of Freedom and Morality in Kant’s Practical Philosophy,” addressed those weighty topics alongside passages of Hindu scripture. The thesis closed on a line from the Bhagavad Gita referencing “the infinite spirit” and “the pure calm of infinity,” according to a 2019 article in The Intercept.

Béatrice Longuenesse, Lachlan’s thesis advisor at Princeton, confirmed the accuracy of that report via email.

After graduation, though, Lachlan plunged headlong into his father’s business, moving to Australia to work for the Murdoch newspapers that were once the core of News Corp.’s business. Many assumed he was being groomed for higher things at News Corp., and they were not wrong. Within just a few years, Lachlan was deputy CEO of the News Corp. holding company for its Australian properties; shortly thereafter, he took an executive position at News Corp. itself and was soon running the company’s television stations and print publishing operations.

Lachlan’s ascent came to an abrupt halt in 2005, when he resigned from News Corp. with no public explanation. According to Paddy Manning, an Australian journalist who last year published a biography of Lachlan Murdoch, the core problem involved two relatively minor issues on which Lachlan disagreed with Roger Ailes, who then ran Fox News.

“The real point was that Lachlan felt Rupert had backed his executives over his son,” Manning said in an interview. “So Lachlan felt, ‘If I’m not going to be supported, then what’s the point?’” Manning did not have direct access to Lachlan for his book “The Successor,” but said he spoke in depth with the people closest to his subject.

Lachlan returned to Australia, where he has often described feeling most at home, and founded an investment group that purchased a string of local radio stations among other properties.

While he was away, News Corp. entered choppy waters. The U.K. phone-hacking scandal, in which tabloid journalists at the News of the World and other Murdoch-owned publications had found a way to listen to voicemails of the British royal family, journalistic competitors and even a missing schoolgirl, had seriously damaged the company. The fracas led to resignations of several News Corp. officials, criminal charges against some, and the closure of News of the World as its finances went south.

Manning said that the damage the scandal inflicted on News Corp. — and on both Lachlan Murdoch’s father and his brother James, chief executive of News’ British newspaper group at the time — helped pull Lachlan back to the company.

“He was watching the family tear itself apart over the phone-hacking scandal,” Manning said. Lachlan was “instrumental in trying to circle the wagons and turn the guns outwards, and stop Rupert from sacking James.”

While it took more convincing, Lachlan eventually returned to the company in 2014 as co-chairman of News Corp. alongside James.

Not long afterward, Ailes was forced out of his job at Fox News following numerous credible allegations of sexual harassment.

Lachlan Murdoch has drawn criticism from media watchdogs for what many called Fox News’ increasingly conspiratorial and misinformation-promoting broadcasts. The network hit a nadir following the 2020 election when voting machine company Dominion Voting Systems sued Fox News for $1.6 billion, alleging that Fox knowingly promoted false conspiracy theories about the security of its voting machines.

Fox settled that suit for $787.5 million in March of this year. A similar lawsuit filed by Smartmatic, another voting-machine maker, may go to trial in 2025, Fox has suggested.

In certain respects, though, Lachlan Murdoch’s behavior suggests some ambivalence about his role at News Corp. In 2021 he moved back to Sidney and has been mixing commuting and remote work from Australia ever since. “I think there’s a legitimate question about whether you can continue to do that and for how long” while running companies based in the U.S., Manning said.


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