On April 14, 2004, Director of the Saudi Arabian Information Office, Nail Al-Jubeir, wrote a letter to the international editor of United Press International (UPI) with a copy to UPI's editor-in-chief, pointing out two instances of totally incorrect information on Saudi issues. One was a false report dated April 4 on a fatal bomb blast a (a similar incident took place last November); the other dated April 10 misrepresented the freezing of bank accounts in the Kingdom.
April 14, 2004
Mr. Claude Salhani, International Editor
United Press International, 1510 H Street, NW Suite 700
Washington, DC 20005
Dear Mr. Salhani:
I am writing to bring to your attention two serious instances of misreporting by your organization. In two stories about Saudi Arabia this month, UPI fell short of the journalistic standards to which it should be held.
On April 4, UPI released a story with the headline: “Five dead in Saudi blast”. This story reported that there had been three explosions that Sunday morning at a residential housing compound in Riyadh. It also reported that “at least 100 people were injured in the blasts, many of them children”. The story sources the Arabic-language TV network al-Jazeera as well as the Saudi Press Agency and a U.S. embassy spokeswoman. It should be clear at this point that these explosions did not happen, although similar events did occur on Sunday, November 9, 2003. I assume that al-Jazeera, the Saudi Press Agency and the U.S. embassy were well aware of the fact that no explosions had taken place on April 4, 2004. I would ask that in the future UPI checks sources for itself rather than rely on other media reports for confirmation. One phone call to the U.S. embassy in Riyadh, or the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington, DC and UPI would have avoided making this error.
On April 10, UPI released a brief story with the headline: “Saudi freezes ‘suspicious’ bank accounts”. This story reported the following: “Saudi Arabian bank sources say government officials have frozen 530,000 bank accounts suspected of money laundering and financing terrorism. The sources in Riyadh said the number of accounts that were frozen constituted 25 percent of all bank accounts in the oil-rich Arab Kingdom.” Even a cursory check of this information would reveal that these bank accounts were frozen because the account holders failed to update their personal information in compliance with new regulations set forth by the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA). These accounts will be reactivated instantly if the account holders update their information. To state that a quarter of all bank accounts in Saudi Arabia were frozen because of money-laundering and terror financing is a gross exaggeration and contributes to the wealth of misinformation about Saudi Arabia and its citizens and residents that is already offered to the general public.
Please make your staff aware of these errors and require that in future they proceed with greater caution when reporting on Saudi Arabia. Thank you for your attention to these matters.
Nail A. Al-Jubeir
cc: Mr. Michael Marshall