Vice Media reportedly organised government commissioned festival in Saudi Arabia

via @AzimuthFestival/Instagram

Employees have raised concerns over Vice Media’s involvement with Saudi Arabia.

Vice Media was involved in the organisation of a music festival in Saudi Arabia, the Guardian reports.

According to the Guardian, Azimuth Festival was organised through Vice’s creative marketing agency, Virtue. The Guardian reports that contractors employed to work on the festival were asked to sign NDAs (non-disclosure agreements). The Vice name also didn’t appear on public marketing material.

Confirmation of Vice’s involvement can be found on the website of a digital marketing agency entitled HIC. The exact role the agency played in the promotion of the event is unknown. However, the HIC website has a page dedicated to the festival, which took place at Al-‘Ula, a world heritage site located in the northwest of Saudi Arabia, in March 2020.

The site reads: “In December 2019 and February 2020 Vice will partner with the Royal Commission of Al-‘Ula to facilitate the launch of Azimuth – two three-day festivals of art, music and food, at UNESCO World Heritage Site Al-‘Ula, cradling the larger Winter at Tantora festival in an international context.” [sic]

The Royal Commission for Al-‘Ula is a Saudi commission established to preserve and develop the Al-‘Ula site. It’s under the jurisdiction of the Saudi Arabian government.

The Guardian‘s report also features quotes from various Vice employees. One of whom told the newspaper: “Vice employees have for years raised concerns over the company’s involvement with Saudi Arabia – and we’ve been fobbed off with empty statements and pathetic excuses.”

Others claimed that the total budget for the event was an estimated $20 million (£15 million). Tinie Tempah, Chainsmokers and Jean-Michel Jarre, among others, performed at the festival. Catering options were supplied by high-end chefs from famed international restaurants such as Annabel’s in London and Contra in New York.

In October 2018, Vice announced that it was reviewing its contract with Saudi Arabian publishing group SRMG following the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a US-based journalist and critic of Saudi Arabia’s government. Prior to Khashoggi’s death, and the global scandal that ensued, Vice had been working with SRMG on the production of four mini-documentaries aimed at promoting Saudi Arabia. Last April, Vice opened an office in the Saudi capital Riyadh.

On Vice’s return to doing business with – and within – the country, an employee told the Guardian: “It is astounding that – despite ongoing opposition from staff – Vice is still happy to take money from a country that was literally responsible for the state-sanctioned murder of a journalist.”