The UK media regulator Ofcom has banned Saudi Arabia from paying to promote its so-called reform agenda on British television.
The move was prompted after revelations that Saudi Arabia had breached British broadcasting law by buying television adverts that promoted the reform policies of the country’s crown prince, such as the lifting of long-standing bans on women drivers and cinemas.
This is while Saudi reforms have been accompanied by heavy-handed crackdown on dissent against the kingdom’s critics, ranging from clerics to some of the very female activists who campaigned for years to end the bans.
In one case cited by Ofcom in the Guardian, Riyadh had paid to air a minute-long advert which included images of old and contemporary Saudi Arabia, women driving, cinemas being reopened, entertainment, cultural events and members of the Saudi royal family.
The advertisement was aired 56 times on Britain’s Sky One channel back in March, around the time Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made an official visit to the UK.
Ofcom said the ruling was made after it found that Riyadh had been attempting to “influence public opinion in the UK on matters of public controversy,” and had broken Britain’s strict ban on paid political advertising on television and radio stations.
Ofcom stressed that it did not consider the ads were of “a public service nature.”
The media regulator said it had taken into account the controversy around “freedom of speech, human rights and women’s rights” in the Arab country when making the ruling, in addition to issues concerning “the sale of UK weapons to the kingdom and the kingdom’s involvement in the Yemeni civil war.”
Saudi Arabia and a number of its regional allies launched a devastating military campaign against Yemen in March 2015, with the aim of bringing the government of former president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi back to power and crushing the country’s Houthi Ansarullah movement.
Some 15,000 Yemenis have been killed and thousands more injured since the onset of the Saudi-led aggression.
More than 2,200 others have died of cholera, and the crisis has triggered what the United Nations has described as the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.
The British government has remained defiant in the face of growing international pressure to stop arms exports to Saudi Arabia, defending the sales amid evidence of war crimes and civilian deaths in Yemen.
The UK has increased its weapons sales by around 500 percent since the onset of the Saudi invasion, according to a recent report by The Independent. The UK has, so far, sold more than six billion pounds of arms to Saudi Arabia.