In the wake of the global scandal surrounding the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, Vice is reviewing its contract with Saudi Arabian publishing group SRMG, an industry source told Variety on Monday.
Vice has an ongoing contract with SRMG to produce a series of four mini-documentaries aimed at promoting Saudi Arabia. Some of these have already been made, notably one about the world’s largest camel festival, a 15-minute video that has been viewed 5 million times on YouTube.
The next installment, about the kickoff of the Formula E racing circuit in Saudi Arabia, is supposed to start production in December, but Vice’s legal team is now reviewing the contract with SRMG, the source said.
Contacted by Variety, a Vice spokeswoman said that the company began working with SRMG earlier this year on videos about lifestyle and cultural events across the Middle East. She said nothing was “currently in production.”
“We continue to review and monitor the situation,” the spokeswoman said, adding that Vice’s separate, independent news division would continue reporting on the Khashoggi scandal.
Khashoggi disappeared Oct. 2 during a visit to the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul. The Saudi government, which is effectively under the rule of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, vehemently denied any involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance before acknowledging over the weekend that the journalist – a frequent critic of the crown prince – had been killed inside the consulate, as the Turkish government repeatedly alleged. Saudi officials called it a “rogue operation,” but Western officials have demanded answers.
Vice’s ongoing relationship with SRMG could prove problematic as the publishing company is known for having ties to the Saudi government. SRMG ranks as the Middle East’s largest publishing company. It’s listed on the stock market and has two main shareholders: the Al Ahli Capital Fund and Al Ahli Capital Fund 4, which are operated by the National Commercial Bank, a prominent Saudi bank mainly owned by the Saudi government.
Vice founder Shane Smith met the Saudi crown prince in April at a dinner hosted by producer Brian Grazer, which was also attended by Disney CEO Bob Iger, Endeavor boss Ari Emanuel, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos (who also owns the Washington Post) and other high-profile Hollywood executives.
Alejandro Agag, the CEO of Formula E, told the Associated Press last week that his organization was monitoring the situation but had “no plans to change [its] calendar this season” in spite of the Khashoggi scandal.
The Public Investment Fund, the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, is an investor in Penske Media Corp., the parent company of Variety.