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Media companies, others withdraw from Saudi conference after journalist’s disappearance

PROMINENT media companies, top businesses and organisations are pulling out of a high-profile business conference in Saudi Arabia as questions mount over the Kingdom’s role in the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Khashoggi, Washington Post contributor, has been missing for more than a week after going to the Saudi consulate general in Istanbul, Turkey, to obtain wedding papers. Turkish officials privately believed he was killed at the consulate, an allegation denied by Saudi Arabia.

The Future Investment Initiative, also known as “Davos in the desert,” is being hosted by Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, as part of his Vision 2030 to break the country’s dependence on oil. The conference is scheduled to take place between October 23 and October 25 in Riyadh.

“CNN has withdrawn its participation in the Saudi Future Investment Initiative Conference,” it announced on Twitter.

 

The New York Times has also pulled its partnership, telling CNN Business in a statement that the newspaper was “no longer a media sponsor.”

“In light of the current situation related to the disappearance of the Washington Post’s Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Turkey, we are no longer comfortable being associated with the event,” a Times spokesperson said.

Andrew Ross Sorkin, a columnist for the New York Times and anchor for CNBC, tweeted Thursday that he was “terribly distressed” by the disappearance of Khashoggi and would no longer participate. He had been due to moderate three sessions.

Zanny Minton Beddoes, the editor-in-chief of The Economist, will also no longer speak at the event as previously scheduled, a spokesperson told CNN Business.

Viacom CEO Bob Bakish, who was also scheduled to speak at the conference, would not attend, a company spokesperson said, according to The Warp reports.

Arianna Huffington has pulled out of the conference, according to a spokesperson for her company Thrive Global. Huffington, the founder of the Huffington Post and an Uber board member, said she also resigned from the advisory board of the Saudi conference.

Journalists from Fox Business Network and CNBC listed as moderators for the event have also withdrawn from the conference .

Los Angeles Times owner, Patrick Soon-Shiong, who had been scheduled to speak at the conference, will not be attending the event, according to a spokesman for the newspaper.

Beyond the media industry, high-profile corporate partners for the event, including Siemens and MasterCard have also announced their withdrawal from the conference.

Uber CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi said he would not participate in the conference. “I’m very troubled by the reports to date about Jamal Khashoggi,” he  said. “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.”

His announcement is particularly significant because Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund is a big shareholder in Uber. In 2016, it invested $3.5 billion in the ride-hailing company.

Richard Branson  the founder of Virgin Group a company that controls more that 400 companies said earlier Thursday that he was pulling back from two tourism projects in Saudi Arabia and has suspended discussions with the Saudi government about a $1 billion investment in Virgin’s space companies.

“What has reportedly happened in Turkey around the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, if proved true, would clearly change the ability of any of us in the West to do business with the Saudi Government,” the British billionaire and founder of the Virgin business empire said in a statement.

They joined a growing list of high-profile figures who have pulled out of the conference as concerns mount about what happened to Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist, contributor to the Washington Post and critic of the Saudi regime.

The New York Times reports that Khashoggi has been a longtime regime dissident and most recently a sharp critic of the ongoing war in Yemen.

Amidst the worldwide clamour for a cogent information on the whereabouts of the journalist, the Kingdom had denied the allegation, but the latest reporting from CNN suggested that Turkey has both audio and video evidence to corroborate the claims.

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