Independent caught in Turkey-Saudi media spat

The Independent newspaper has found itself caught in the middle of a tit-for-tat media dispute between Turkey and Saudi Arabia that has seen each state block access to outlets linked to the other, the Guardian said. 

The Independent’s Turkish-language site was banned by authorities in Ankara last weekend over its links to Riyadh in a “bizarre tit-for-tat press freedom war”, the Guardian said.

The Independent Turkish site had been accused of pushing Saudi narratives in rival Middle East countries - a claim that the Independent vehemently denies. 

A series of foreign-language editions have been founded under the Independent’s brand by a publishing company with close ties to the Saudi state, and they are administered by a Saudi publishing house, the Guardian said.

The blocking of Independent Turkish is part of Turkey’s move to purge more than a dozen news websites it says are connected to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - including Sky News Arabia.

The editor of Independent Turkish, Nevzat Çiçek, said the site was editorially independent and that banning the outlet was an unfair decision made in retaliation for the Saudi decision to block several Turkish media sites, including the state-owned Anadolu news agency.

The moves come at a time of heightened tension between the countries, as Turkey announced it was charging 20 Saudis over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The Turkish media has also accused the Saudis of mishandling the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis by not acting quickly enough to halt the flow of Muslim pilgrims, the Guardian said.

Writing in the Saudi newspaper Okaz about the ongoing dispute shortly before Turkey blocked the Independent’s Turkish edition, the prominent columnist Bader bin Saud said “the most appropriate way to reciprocate the attitude of the Turks is to take the battle to the enemy’s land”.

An investigation last year by the British media regulator Ofcom into the offshore investments in both the Independent and its sister newspaper the London Evening Standard found that - while the new investors had close ties to the Saudi state - there was no evidence of them influencing the output at English-language publications.

The Guardian said it had previously revealed that Evgeny Lebedev, the owner of both titles, had hosted the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for a private dinner during a state visit to London.