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​Vice Media secretly ran festival for Saudi government

The company went to efforts to keep its name off the event following a pledge to stop work in Saudi Arabia

  • Gemma Ross
  • 1 February 2022
​Vice Media secretly ran festival for Saudi government

Vice reportedly undertook secret involvement in Saudi Arabia’s Azimuth Music Festival in 2020 - following a pledge to stop all work in the Middle Eastern country, the Guardian reports.

The event is estimated to have cost around $20 million to set up and took place on the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Al-‘Ula in the Saudi Arabian desert.

Vice’s controversial involvement in the event has come just a few years after the media company announced it was suspending work in the country following the 2018 assassination of the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, an outspoken critic of the Saudi regime.

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Azimuth Festival was backed by the Saudi government, and boasted some of the biggest names in music such as The Chainsmokers, while the food was provided by a slew of world-class caterers including New York-based Michelin star chefs.

Vice insiders spoke to the Guardian about the festival and the media company’s attempt to continue making money in the Gulf country despite its poor human rights record, vehemently pushing for more business opportunities.

One Vice employee told the news outlet: “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.”

According to insiders, the event was estimated to have cost a whopping $20 million (£15 million) to set up with the help of the Saudi government. The festival had a hefty tag to attend and was mostly visited by influencers.

Read this next: A Saudi man has been arrested for dabbing at a festival

Vice also allegedly went to efforts to keep their name off the lucrative event with staff reportedly asked to sign non-disclosure agreements.

“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,” one Vice employee told the Guardian.

A spokesperson for the company was also asked about Vice’s involvement in the festival, to which they claimed: “Vice Arabia was set up over four years ago as part of our global expansion – alongside many other media and content businesses who have expanded into the region.

“Vice has always been about creativity and culture for youth in every corner of the world – and in the Saudi Region, two-thirds of the population is under the age of 35. Our editorial voice has and always will report with complete autonomy and independence,” they said.

[Via The Guardian]

Gemma Ross is Mixmag's Digital Intern, follow her on Twitter

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