What’s in a word? Coverage of Saudi oil minister Ali Al-Naimi’s departure by newswire media and social media reactions

Another week passes by and we witness more remarkable changes in Saudi Arabia. Over the past weekend Saudi King Salman announced a raft of changes which impacted the Kingdom’s government structure as well as those who were tasked with leading the changes.

The headline grabber, in more ways than one, was the departure of the longstanding oil minister Ali Al-Naimi. Al-Naimi had been an ever-present in government, serving as the oil minister for just over two decades. There had long been talk of Ali Al-Naimi, who is now 80, stepping down. When the time came, it was still a surprise to many.

Rather than talk about the man, who is a legend in the oil industry and is held in high regard by Saudis, I wanted to briefly look at the headlines from the AFP, Bloomberg, Reuters and the Wall Street Journal.

AFP used the word ‘sacked’ in their headline, but then reverted to replaced in the copy. Interestingly, the piece which was on the AFP site is no longer present. The below is from the cached version on Google.

AFP Naimi coverage

Bloomberg, which has scored a number of scoops in the Kingdom recently with its coverage of Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, went for the below title which . The news piece was diplomatic in terms of the wording used about All Al-Naimi’s departure, including the use of the verb ‘replaced’ to describe the change in ministers (Ali Al-Naimi’s successor is the Chairman of Saudi Aramco Khalid Al-Falih).

Bloomberg Coverage

Reuters also focused on the incoming minister and used the word replaced.

Reuters coverage

Last but not least, Wall Street Journal initially opted for the word ‘fired’ in their title. After a firestorm on Twitter, including attacks against its Riyadh-based Saudi correspondent (and Saudi national) Ahmed Al-Omran, the title was changed from fired to dismissed (the word fired is still in the url as you can see from the below).

WSJ coverage

The argument that the WSJ team put forward is that the wording was correct – one is appointed to a minister’s post and then one is fired. Fired effectively means the same as replaced, dismissed or sacked. The nuance was lost on many who took offence and reached out directly to Ahmed via Twitter to complain. In a rare display of understanding, the WSJ changed the title. Ahmed Al-Omran also apologized for any offense taken.

In a region where the international media has rarely been given much attention by the national population, the Ali Al-Naimi story underlined a possible change in attitudes brought about by social media and the need to communicate what Gulf nationals feel is a correct story or narrative to the outside world. For these reasons, this will not be the last time that the foreign media comes under scrutiny for the wording they use to describe what is happening on the ground here in the Gulf.

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