Saudi Arabia Uncovered: MSLGroup defends country's human rights record after 'shabby' documentary

MSLGroup, which represents the government of Saudi Arabia, has told PRWeek that the makers of a UK TV documentary aired last night purporting to show human rights abuses in the country "chose not to tell a complete story".

The one-hour documentary, Saudi Arabia Uncovered, which said it would reveal "the hidden and secret reality inside Saudi Arabia", and warned it contained "graphic scenes of executions from the start that some viewers may find distressing", garnered substantial UK and global media coverage.

Headlines on online news stories about the programme included 'Brutality of life in Saudi Arabia exposed: Woman who killed stepdaughter screams "I did not do it" as she is beheaded in street' in the UK's Daily Mirror, and 'Saudi Arabia: Women beheaded in street, corpses dangling from cranes' in Australia's News.com.au, while the documentary's makers were also interviewed on BBC radio.

The documentary follows previous criticisms last year of the UK government's relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Michael Petruzzello, North American public affairs practice leader at MSLGroup, who has personally worked with the Saudi government for 17 years, said his client thought the film was "complete trash", with some footage shown actually several years old.

He said he had not had any interaction with the filmmakers, but said the country's government would likely make contact with them soon.

Petruzzello said the reporters, who said they filmed undercover, had worked "very surreptitiously". He added: "The reporters could very easily have requested and got a visa like normal journalists do, but they chose not to, and they chose not to tell a complete story." For example, he said that in the case of the woman who killed her stepdaughter, the person who beheaded that woman was later convicted for the crime.

"The kingdom is sometimes subject to this shabby kind of reporting – is its society perfect? No. Is it making steps to progress? Absolutely," Petruzzello said.

"Our role is to help inform the public in different countries about the strategic role that Saudi Arabia plays, the longevity and importance of Saudi Arabia as an ally and its business role," he said.

Asked by PRWeek whether he had concerns about human rights, Petruzzello said: "I have concerns about human rights everywhere – there are issues about human rights all across the globe. I think looking at the kingdom one must not just look at some of these issues, but at the progress that has been made. Every time I go, I see another page of their history has been written."

"The country is just 80 years old – I look at my country; it took hundreds of years for women to get the vote, it took hundreds of years to abolish slavery; these things take time," he went on to say, adding: "People don’t yet have a full appreciation of what it is like – when I go, I feel safer than when I’m here in Washington, DC."

David Carter, head of issues and crisis for Ogilvy PR in London, said that the documentary would "lead to greater scrutiny of the government’s current relationship with the market". Ogilvy has three offices in Saudi Arabia.

He said: "The current focus on the Brexit may provide a distraction, although it may also highlight some of the sensitivities of leaving the EU and forming closer links with global partners who have different cultures, practices and expectations.

"Companies that do operate in markets with different social norms must be prepared for the media furore that will sometimes come their way, by auditing their own communications risks and ensuring they are consistent with their brand proposition wherever they operate."

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