Are strange factors driving coverage of Khashoggi's murder?

Jamal Khashoggi, looks on during a press conference in the Bahraini capital, Manama. (Mohammed Al-Shaikh/AFP)
Jamal Khashoggi, looks on during a press conference in the Bahraini capital, Manama. (Mohammed Al-Shaikh/AFP)

Not since the death of JFK has the killing of one man received so much attention. The murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is awful, but one needs to consider why it is receiving the amount of coverage that it is. 

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand also might have rivalled Khashoggi's (Ferdinand's wife Sophie, although also shot, is hardly known) with the difference that most people had heard of Kennedy before his death in Dallas and the shooting of the archduke was the "trigger" event for the First World War.

The political murder of anyone is horrendous. The murder of a journalist for his views is outrageous. Killing someone on foreign soil with the aid of a power-tool, nail clippers and a body double has the making of a far-fetched movie. And yet it does seem that this is what happened. 

Any detail that emerge are consumed by a starving media. Tuesday morning headlines screamed that the death order was given over Skype, as though this somehow makes it more callous and colder. I am perplexed why it should make any difference if it had been communicated via telephone, WhatsApp or even Facebook Messenger, for that matter. Either way, the gruesome result is much the same. 

Even those who do not value press freedom have joined the chorus of outrage. Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan has suddenly emerged as a first amendment zealot and seems to have forgotten just how limited the rights of expression are in his country. He forgets the number of his citizens who are currently incarcerated because they dared to criticise his regime. Or those who have been deprived of access to the rule of law. A cynic might in fact wonder what it is that has upset him so. 

In some sense the extent of the furore over the death of Khashoggi should have been predictable. Especially if we consider the following factors:

- Saudi Arabia in recent months has moved closer to the United States US). This has irked the Qataris, Turks and the Iranians as it serves to shift the power balance in the Middle East. This is not to be underestimated in a region that hovers so precariously on edge.

- US president Donald Trump has extended an enormous amount of effort in wooing Saudi Arabia. The relationship is of financial benefit to the US, which means that if successful, it will be highly beneficial to his reputation. What follows is that it is politically expedient for the Democrats in the US to use the Khashoggi event to undermine Trump and paint him as closely to the Saudis as possible. 

With these factors at play, a strange and uncomfortable alliance of despots, left leaning US media and US Democrats seems to have formed. The result is that the more mileage to be gained out of the Khashoggi killing, the better. 

It might be worth noting, as a point of interest only, that while all this has been playing out, Egypt has arrested author Abdel Khalek Farouk for daring to write a book, tiled Is Egypt Really a Poor Country? The book is critical of Egyptian economic policies. And yet his arrest has hardly been acknowledged.

According to Acumen Media's data analysts and strategists, in the last week the Khashoggi murder accounted for 5 million posts, half a million unique authors, an engagement rate of 32.4 million (people reacting to the posts). 70% of the conversation is taking place in the US, 5% in the United Kingdom, 4% in Saudi Arabia and the rest in Canada, France, Spain and Germany. 

Tonya Khoury, CEO of Acumen Media is somewhat perplexed by the intensity of the interest in Khashoggi.  

"Over the past 7 days #Khashoggi has been by far the largest story in the world. And yet we have hundreds and thousands of migrants without food or water, we have hundreds and thousands of children missing from across the world, we are on the brink of famine in many countries, yet only one person gets every president's attention? Something does not seem right."

Whether it is the intrigue that surrounds Khashoggi's death, whether it's the gruesome details that feed our insatiable curiosity or political expediency that drives the media coverage we may never know. All I am certain of is that if we paid half the attention to the shameful deaths of Syrian civilians as we do to this case, there is a good chance that we have solved that problem by now. 

- Feldman is the author of Carry on Baggage and Tightrope and the afternoon drive show presenter on Chai FM.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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