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CNN, Financial Times, CNBC Withdraw From Saudi Conference Amid Journalist’s Disappearance

CNN, CNBC, Bloomberg and the Financial Times said they would no longer take part in a much-anticipated Saudi investment conference, the latest media organizations to withdraw from the event following the disappearance of dissident columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

The AT&T-owned cable-news outlet and the financial newspaper, owned by Japan’s Nikkei, had been named as media partners of the Future Investment Initiative, along with Bloomberg, Fox Business Network, and Al Aribiya News Channel. The event is scheduled to take place in Riyadh between Oct. 23 and Oct. 25. “CNN has withdrawn its participation in the Saudi Future Investment Initiative Conference,” the network said in a statement.

Others quickly followed. NBCUniversal’s CNBC has pulled out of its media partnership with the conference, a spokesman said. “The Financial Times will not be partnering with the FII conference in Riyadh while the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi remains unexplained,” said Lionel Barber, the FT’s editor, in a statement. “Bloomberg will no longer serve as a media partner for the Future Investment Initiative. As we do with every major event in the region, we plan to cover any news from our regional news bureau,” the business-news provider said in a statement. Viacom CEO Bob Bakish said Thursday he would no longer take part in the conference.

On Friday afternoon, a spokeswoman for STX Entertainment said that Bob Simonds, CEO of the company, would no longer attend the conference.

Khashoggi has not been seen since entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. Turkish authorities have told reporters that Khashoggi was murdered in the consulate by a state-sponsored hit squad.

The conference is hosted by the Public Investment Fund, the Saudi sovereign wealth fund. Dubbed “Davos in the Desert,” the conference was first held last year, and has been seen as an opportunity for the mideast nation to spotlight the modernization efforts of Crown Prince Mohammed.

Others have also withdrawn from the event, citing the Khashoggi matter as the deciding factor.

New York Times columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin, who had been slated to moderate a panel that would have included Viacom’s Bakish, said on Twitter on Thursday that he was “terribly distressed” by Khashoggi’s disappearance. The New York Times was also slated to be a “media partner” of the event, but announced on Wednesday that it would withdraw from the event. Mellody Hobson, the president of Ariel Investments and a former chairman of Dreamworks Animation, resigned on Thursday from the conference advisory board. Patrick Soon-Shiong, the owner of the Los Angeles Times, said on Thursday that he would not attend the conference.

CNN did not elaborate on its reasons for terminating its association with the event.

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