The Nazï regime was probably the first in the world to truly understand the power of the media. Hitler tasked his propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels with ensuring the media of the time – which mostly consisted of newspapers and the radio – were loyal to the regime and only told the people of Germany what the regime wanted them to know.
These lessons have been adopted, albeit to less extreme conclusions, by political parties all around the world. Nearly every propagandist, PR person and government spin doctor essentially use the same methods – to inevitably varied results. And by the looks of it, Saudi Arabia has also been examining world history.
In much the same way the British jewellery store Ratners had to rebrand in the 1990s after boss Gerald Ratner said his own products were “crap” and wouldn’t last as long as a prawn sandwich, the Saudis have realised that dismembering journalists and jailing women’s rights activists isn’t a good look. But instead of fixing the problem by not doing these things anymore, they’ve resorted to distraction instead.
And the tool they’re going to use to do it is culture. The New York Times ran a substantial article on Monday covering the subject – and I see many parallels with the past. Like the Nazïs, large amounts of government money will be used to help organise film festivals, high culture classical events and yes, dance music festivals too. And whilst they won’t exhibit control over the content in the way Hitler’s regime did, questions will inevitably be aimed towards anyone who accepts the invite to such an event.
But the most depressing detail of all? None of the DJs of the likes who signed up for the recent MDL Beast Soundstorm festival will care in the least. They’ll just see this as an opportunity to make lots of money and try out as many 5-star Riyadh hotels as they can get away with. Great news for Saudi hospitality, not so great for those who think they shouldn’t get away with whitewashing their human rights record…